Reviewed – 19th March 2022
“manages to follow the arc of Wyndham’s original tale, and yet not get bogged down in all the intricacies of a full length novel”
As a huge fan of John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi story The Day of the Triffids, how could I not journey all the way to North Finchley to review this adaptation by multi-media company Platform 4? It’s not only a welcome trip down memory lane, it’s timely. Triffids! has more than a few resonances for those living during a pandemic, and this imaginative adaptation manages to take an iconic work from the past, and fix it firmly in our present. Wyndham’s story is about flesh eating plants which can uproot and move, taking advantage of humans suddenly incapacitated by blindness. The Day of the Triffids has more than a few creepy connections to our own time, with humans sidelined by a new virus, and at the mercy of disappearing supply chains. Dystopian themes aside, there are so many unexpected, and unusual, things to enjoy about Platform 4’s Triffids! that it is impossible to do the show justice in so few words. But I will try.
Platform 4 is not a new company. They’ve been around for twenty five years or so, based in Winchester. In these years, they have created performance works that are “highly visual and musical, often intimate in scale and process.” Triffids! is, therefore, pretty uncategorizable, in traditional theatre terms. The show is organized, not in scenes, but in “triffid movements.” In performance type, it settles somewhere between an old-timey radio show with lots of music, accompanied by a mix of instruments that rely heavily on electronic augmentation — and a stripped down narrative that is tweaked to suit our modern era. But the whole experience is much more complex than that suggests. The narration moves easily among classic 1950s film and broadcast clips, projected onto a small cyclorama, and modern presentation in 1950s costumes. Triffids! plays with the paradoxical. It’s an incredibly layered, yet spartan mash up, all presented on a bare stage crammed with microphones and musical instruments. There is a sly nod to the triffids themselves in a lone cactus in a pot. A cactus that also plays its part as the show proceeds. And did I mention the cyclorama at the back—rich and colourful, constantly changing, and also an essential performer in the show?
Triffids! manages to follow the arc of Wyndham’s original tale, and yet not get bogged down in all the intricacies of a full length novel. It’s true that some of the story might seem too spare in detail, but if you’ve read the novel, you will enjoy remembering all your favourite moments as Platform 4 refreshes your memory with haunting sound effects, and original music that sets a powerful mood. At any moment, you can be immersed in the 1950s, or listening to a song reminiscent of the B-52s, or 1990s acid house. Or the sound can be uncategorizable, emanating from a violin bow being drawn across the spines of a cactus. You will watch performers Jules Bushell, Catherine Church, Jill Dowse, Laurence Hunt and Matt Tarling move easily between instruments. Catherine Church and Jill Dowse do the lion’s share of the narration, but all the performers have serious musical talent, and it shows. Platform 4’s intricate work is evident off stage as well. The music is composed by Pete Flood and the company, Barret Hodgson provides the digital work, and Simon Plumridge is the dramaturg and designer. Additional voiceovers come from the community of Winchester’s Highcliffe Allotment, and the sound is engineered and mixed by Jules Bushell. Triffids! is indeed a “unique cross-arts participatory project.”
In essence, if you have a chance to see the work of Platform 4—even if it means braving the frustrations of traveling on the Northern Line to North Finchley to a small black box theatre at the artspace—take it, and go. Your journey will still be easier than battling triffids all the way to find a safe haven on the Isle of Wight in some nightmarish, dystopian future (for humans, at least) where vegetables rule the earth.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Andi Sapey
Reviewed by Dominica this year: