22 September 2011

Halcyon Days at the Riverside

Whatever I was expecting from Halcyon Days what I got was rather different. And much better.

What was an impromptu decision to go to a weird sounding play proved to be inspired.

It's exceptional.

Let me explain why.

The blurb says, "Halcyon Days is a dark comedy that follows the story of three people and one ghost who meet on a suicide website."

Intriguing though that sampler is the situation quickly become more complex and surreal than that.

We discover that the person who called them together, Massa, has no recollection of doing so and he flits between moods and fantasies. The one genuine suicider, Hello Kitty, is seen by the world as a happy family man but in reality he is gay (think Julian Clary) and has large debts.

Kazumi (the women) does not really want to kill herself (she pretends to the others that she does) but wants to study people who do. She brings with her Akio, the ghost (or vision) of a young man that she was counselling who killed himself.

The plot develops unexpectedly from there and we end up living Massa's fantasy that they are human shields in some global conflict and are rehearsing a classic story, The Red Ogre and the Blue Ogre, to present to the nursery school across the road.

OK, so this sounds a little mad, and it is, but we get there step by believable step so it all makes sense at the time; much like a JG Ballard disaster novel.

And we have a lot of fun getting there and being there. I especially loved Kazumi's West Country accent when she plays the part of a peasant.

Then it all comes together magnificently.

The story of the Red and the Blue Ogres (a fantasy within a fantasy) becomes the means to understand the real world.

It's a very satisfactory ending to a wonderful journey.

Making it all possible are the cast who wallow playfully in the possibilities of each role as their characters change with each fantasy or realisation.

The play itself is solid with good dialogue, movement and progression. That's all down to Shoji Kokami who wrote and directed it. He's big in Japan apparently.

It's a minimal set too (my favourite kind) and that allows the play to flow quickly between scenes. Which is just as well as there are thirteen of them altogether.

The scenes have evocative names like "How do you spell conscientious?" and "Maybe he was a social worker". These are projected on the stage as sur titles and their meanings become clear at some point.

This play has everything. Truly exceptional and truly fun.

Then things got even better. Loitering with intent I was able to speak to the cast (Dan Ford, Mark Rawlings, Abigail Boyd and Joe Morrow) afterwards and tell them how good they were and how much I enjoyed the play.

Speaking to Dan was a double treat as he had also been in Beachy Head that I saw and loved earlier in the year. That play was all about his suicide too.

The only mistake I made was not seeing the play earlier in its run. Leaving it to the penultimate day, to tie-in with an anniversary, meant that I could only go and see it once. Big mistake.

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