Culture critic Madeline McInnis reviews Mindgame at the Belgrade, Coventry.Written by mmcinnis on 16th March 2018
Review: Oyster Boy at the Old Jointstock Theatre
Culture Critic Will Gillingham enjoys Haste Theatre's creative adaptation of Tim Burton's darkly comic poem, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy
Haste Theatre’s intuitive adaptation of Tim Burton’s poem The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy is an exceptional achievement, spinning a comparatively small amount of source text into an hour-long production, which excels upon the original at every turn. The sprightly tone which pervades each scene provides a brilliant contrast to the dark truth harbouring at the story’s core, keeping Burton’s twisted wit intact while simultaneously creating a piece which is indisputably their own.
“'Haste Theatre’s intuitive adaptation of Tim Burton’s poem The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy is an exceptional achievement...'
The narrative occurs within a 1950’s American summer, awash with polka dot dresses, wicker picnic baskets and unending sun. Headed by the ukulele-toting Sophie Taylor, the barbershop quartet of narrators set the scene in harmonic fashion, their energetic exposition and tongue-in-cheek lyrics causing the piece to be entertaining from its outset, before we’re flung into the narrative itself. The scenes are presented entirely through prop-work: a blue sheet is held to represent the sea, bottles of spray are produced when it’s to rain. And yet the minimalism doesn’t detract from the location emanating from the stage: the enthusiasm of all six members of the cast and their seamless set-handling is transporting.
Also worthy of note here is their remarkable puppetry. Sam, the eponymous Oyster Boy (yes, a boy born with an oyster for a head), is a puppet collectively moved by the cast: while one controls his head, others control limbs to bring him to life. At one stage, it is Sam’s will to kitesurf, and it is to the delight of the audience that the cast oblige. The kite, strung from a fishing rod, soars over the audience, and Sam himself is propelled over a rippling tide. The resulting effect is astounding, and it is this scene more than anything which is demonstrative of Haste Theatre’s accomplishment.
“'...the enthusiasm of all six members of the cast and their seamless set-handling is transporting...'
Each cast member is a vital, and sought-for, component of the production, and it would be a slight if each were not mentioned. The fated couple who give birth to the Oyster Boy (Valeria Compagnoni as Jim and Lexie McDougall as Alice) depict a compelling duo, somehow convincing the audience of their compatibility even when the table which they’re sitting at on their first date is a white sheet being held up by the cast at both ends. Tamara Saffir and Jesse Dupre are great counterparts to Sam as his friends Molly and Polly, as well as both lending their superb vocals to make up two parts of the barbershop quartet. Elly-Beaman Brinklow, another of the quartet, is also fantastically humorous as the desperate Dr Plumcock, but it is the aforementioned Sophie Taylor who shines the brightest among this particularly iridescent team. Her diverse roles are each well-refined, from slapstick waiter to doctoral assistant, and, when given the choice, it is her the eye naturally falls upon in chorus scenes.
The only deviation from praise is in relation to the production’s own deviation from Burton’s original ending. The original culminates with the crux of Burton’s dark humour, a necessary pay-off to the melancholy tale. Haste Theatre’s adaptation, however, ends with a melodic, gentle air, which, when compared to the original, gives a sense of bathos as opposed to satisfaction. As the production would play nicely into Burton’s ending, it is of some confusion why they opted for the change. However, the observation is pernickety and doesn’t have an impact on the overall enjoyment of the piece.
“'The performance is fresh throughout: regularly amusing, wonderfully harmonic and masterfully handled...'
In all, Haste Theatre’s Oyster Boy is a fantastic adaptation. The performance is fresh throughout: regularly amusing, wonderfully harmonic and masterfully handled, the quick-witted narrative is never given the chance to grow stale. The fact that so much is achieved by so few, without being impeded by their minimalist set, is a testament to their theatrical skill. Oyster Boy is touring until 14th May. For a tenner a ticket and an hour of your time, you couldn’t do much better.