The Allesley Silas
Reviewed – 26th July 2022
“Dowse does a fine job in keeping the audience engaged, finding a delightful lyricism in the words and being a natural storyteller”
Following a successful outdoor staging as part of the Coventry UK City Of Culture 2021 programme last year, “The Allesley Silas” has been adapted for Belgrade’s B2 performance space, where it plays this week. An adaptation of George Eliot’s 1861 novel “Silas Marner”, the play tells the story of a linen weaver who is wrongly accused of theft and subsequently withdraws from society. His loneliness and isolation cause him to move to the quiet village of Raveloe, and become obsessed with money, with his collection of gold coins becoming the only thing in the world that matters to him. One night, his gold is stolen, and Silas is devastated. Soon after, an orphaned child with golden hair enters his life when he finds her wandering alone in the snow, and he believes God has returned his gold to him in another form. Through caring for the child (whom he names Eppie), Silas begins to feel the warmth of human contact once more, and tries to overcome the pain of his past. However, the secret of her true parentage may bring fresh heartache to the lives of others in Raveloe.
Adapted from Eliot’s original novel into a two hour abridgement by Alan Pollock and directed by Olivia Marie, “The Allesley Silas” tells Marner’s story faithfully, if not always particularly excitingly. To be fair, Eliot’s tale is heavy on talking and light on action, and this production works within the parameters of the material and creates an enjoyable experience. The show takes a while to bed in and find its feet, with Act One feeling somewhat ploddy, although Act Two is much stronger. The plot is narrated on stage by Jill Dowse, which helps to tighten up the wordier stretches of the story, and Dowse does a fine job in keeping the audience engaged, finding a delightful lyricism in the words and being a natural storyteller. The production is underscored by folk-tinged incidental music (composed by Rebecca Applin) which maintains the setting and tone of the piece, and Abby Clarke’s set design is simple but effective, using a skeletal house structure as the focal point and framing the stage with wooden boxes which also cleverly double-up as floral borders to help show the passing of time and the seasons. The play is staged in the smaller B2 space, with its intimate nature suiting the piece really well and involving the audience in the story.
Adrian Decosta goes a great job as Silas, really taking the audience on the journey from wronged man to miser to nurturing father, and is particularly impressive near the show’s end where he finally gets closure on his past. Alex Allison is also wonderful as Eppie, brilliantly puppeteering (and vocalising) two child versions of her character before playing her for real in the show’s second act. She brings a real warmth to Eppie, and as a girl who is meant to shine like the sun, Allison is spot-on. Decosta and Allison create a bond throughout the show’s second act that feels genuine and heartfelt, which is lovely to watch.
Telling a 160-year-old story in 2022 is always going to be a tricky task, deciding whether to either modernise the story for today’s world or keep it as a period piece. This production goes for the latter, and although it may lack thrills, it offers a gentle and faithful look into the past, and finds real heart on its journey. Simply told, with the cast showing real affection for the piece, “The Allesley Silas” is a pleasantly nostalgic trip back to secondary school English class for audiences looking to dip back into a classic.
Reviewed by Rob Bartley
Photography by Dylan Parrin (from 2021 production)
The Allesley Silas
Belgrade Theatre until 30th July
All our July reviews so far – click on the link to read:
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: