Homelessness, addiction, domestic abuse; all of these serious and depressing topics are potential risks when it comes to theatre (particularly at the Fringe, where comedy tends to take centre-stage), and threatens to overshadow the action and leave the audience feeling miserable as the play ends. The Marked, however, is not a victim of these taboo themes. A play that is enriched by its powerfully evocative and innovative use of music, puppetry and masks, Theatre Temoin’s production is a powerful exploration of how one man uses his imagination to overcome the terrors of his past.
The isolation and paranoia that can come with living on the streets is enforced in the opening moments of the play, as protagonist Jack is seen to be stuck in the cyclical nightmare of everyday life on the streets, as faceless strangers cause him to retreat back to his spot under a bin, the closest thing he can call home. The use of sound to represent the hustle and bustle of London’s streets and roads, and yet only meeting a few characters face-to-face, highlights the anonymity of London, and further isolates Jack inside his own, tormented world.
Then Jack meets Sophie. Also an outsider in London, Jack’s encounter with this 6-month pregnant woman appears to give Jack’s life a new purpose and sense of direction. Wanting to protect her, Jack is committed to make sure that her unborn son has a better life than his own. However, despite the new-found hope that Sophie appears to bring to Jack, very quickly it is clear that history is at risk of repeating itself: and Jack is unable to stop it. As his fears of his mother’s previous alcohol addiction appear to manifest in Sophie, so do the demons of Jack’s dreams begin to come to life. The large, phantom-like monsters that escape from Jack’s past are, quite frankly, terrifying. The use of costume here is fantastic, as the shadows of his mother’s alcoholism seep out of the bin bags and rubbish of the streets, transforming into huge clawed figures of black and red. Once more, the harsh and at times excruciatingly loud screeches of shattering glass enhance the intensity of Jack’s living nightmares. As Jack’s inability to escape these horrific creatures leads to them clouding his judgement, he finds himself isolated once again, but still determined to make things right.
There is so much to this play that brings the story to life. The use of puppetry is not only expertly done, but the way in which it is used to recall moments from Jack’s past is heart-rendering, and combined with the score it becomes hauntingly beautiful. That said, the phantom of his alcoholic mother in his childhood memories transforms into a horrific image that words cannot give justice to. While there is only a handful, thankfully there are a few moments that have a lighter, funnier tone. The mechanical pigeon, a token of hope and solace for Jack, is perhaps the only pigeon that people will have been happy to see reappear before them. This only gets better later on, as what is arguably the dramatic climax of the play’s action is soothed afterwards by a both surreal and comical scene between Jack and two (now human-sized) talking pigeons; a scene that also shows that the play shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and instead cherished for the piece of art that it is. As the play draws near its finish, the hope that Jack seemed to have lost during his childhood once again begins to reappear, and again the novice use of masks in these final scenes show how human those on the streets are, even when their faces are so often lost in the crowds.
As visually stunning as it is deeply harrowing, The Marked is a small company that deserves the huge venue it has been given, and it deserves to be sold out for every show.
King Dome, Pleasance Dome, 1.30pm – 18-29th August
Tickets available at: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/marked
Photo credit: Idil Sukan