I was alerted to the upcoming production of ‘The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil‘ by my lovely friend Sally Collins, who is – you probably guessed – the sister of the aforementioned Stephen. Stephen is a very talented illustrator and cartoonist, and creates brilliant strips for The Guardian newspaper, amongst other things. I bought the book for my other half some time back, and of course read it myself and loved it, so I was excited to see how the company would bring to life the eerie, mysterious tale.
The story follows the fate of a man called Dave, who lives on the island of Here; a place of order, neatness and perfection. But surrounding Here is the sea, and out at sea lies There. There is darkness, chaos, mystery and misrule. Although the inhabitants of Here would never admit it, There is all around them, on the edge of their thoughts, and there is always the worry that one day, somehow, it might break through into Here. And one day, it does – through Dave’s chin.
I’m a big fan of graphic novels and comics, with two of my favourite authors being Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. I love the mixture of art and storytelling – they are a fascinating format. This is the first time I’ve seen a play based on a graphic novel, although of course there have been an ever increasing number of films based on graphic novels (with varying success – ‘From Hell’, I’m looking at you) so I was intrigued to see what the company would do with it.
The staging was excellent. The Bristol Old Vic Studio is a small space, almost in the round, with a gallery level around the perimeter of the room and a raked seating area. The company used imaginative techniques to convey some of the more tricky elements of the story quite impressively, like shadow puppetry and discordant singing. An ensemble cast really brought the order of Here to life, with the addition of new dialogue that blended perfectly with the story.
I really enjoyed the play; it swung from humour to an uneasy eeriness and back smoothly, capturing the essence of Here and There perfectly. I wish there were more performances to come, because I’d highly recommend going along, but sadly the run is now finished.
One of my New Years Resolutions is to Do More Things, including going to the theatre, because I always feel inspired and creative and energetic afterwards. Reading and seeing and participating in plays, productions, concerts, talks and so on sparks new ideas in my mind. I’m certainly going to make a point of seeing the Bristol Old Vic Young Company again; I was seriously impressed with the calibre of acting.
Now I just need to find what play to see next!