Georgia Winstone reviews The Creature, the latest production from Company of Sirens and playwright Lucy Gough.
When one human being takes the life of another, do they themselves retain their humanity; or are they now and forever considered an irredeemable monster? Drawing from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this is the question posed by The Creature which searches to understand the psyche of those who commit such terrible crimes. Developed in consultation with Parc Prison and young offenders in secure units, the presentation of multiple personalities and the deterioration of sanity whilst within the isolation of prison is complex and shocking. The set is intensely dark with moments of alternating coloured flashing lights indicating moments of psychological intensity and confusion. It is simple and sparse, yet the bleakness is in keeping with the unnerving nature of the production.
It begins with the murderer sitting beneath the table, entangled with the physical embodiments of his two other personalities. The layout of the set heightens the disturbing nature of the production, the chairs encircle the table and it is impossible for the audience to look away from the conversations which are simultaneously strained with confusion and filled with bitter anger and aggression.
It is his father whom the murderer, credited only as Son 1, blames for his actions and though he never denies what he has done, he begs for another to bear some of the weight of responsibility. Specifically quoting and referencing Frankenstein, the son believes himself akin to the creature of Shelley’s novel and views his father as the doctor who created the being only to abandon it. To this the father replies, “I didn’t make you, you just happened”; responsibility for such a heinous crime is fought over by the two in great emotional tirades and desperate pleas for sense and meaning.
The Creature does not sensationalise nor focus too heavily upon the graphic murder of the young woman that underpins this play, as many television and film dramas have recently been accused of doing. But rather writer Lucy Gough chooses to just briefly mention the act to allow the audience insight into how truly terrible this crime is. The murder itself is not the primary focus, but rather the murderer himself; his motivations, the consequences, and emotional responses to such an action. Yet it is during these small insights that the complexity of the young murderer’s mind is presented; his understanding of love and humanity is warped and so is his sense of responsibility and consequence.
The performances of Jams Thomas and Matt Reed are particularly superb, but they are often let down by a lack of nuance in the script. The direct quotes from Shelley’s Frankenstein and other literature of the time, such as Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, are often awkward and unnecessary. Oblique references, which are present, along the title itself, are enough to highlight the inspiration. The audience is often told, rather than shown, the ideas Gough wishes to convey; the monologues of the father are especially evident of this, as he continuously argues for his own innocence.
The most intriguing aspect of Gough’s play is perhaps that the murderer is portrayed by three actors, Reed being the primary, with Angharad Matthews and Jarred Ellis Thomas portraying what appear to be alternate personalities representing his mind and heart respectively; indeed, this is primarily what the dialogue of these characters involves. Son 1 attempts to ignore both and it is the mind which often overrules the pestering childlike innocence of the heart; the mind is cold and enjoying the discomfort, whilst the heart often questions and seeks to understand.
The Creature is an excellent presentation of the complexity of violent criminals, a play that gets in deep to the nature versus nurture conundrum. Past trauma and inhumane treatment from other human beings can have a lasting effect on the lives and actions of others, especially children. Though there is no denying the murderer acted monstrously, The Creature asks if he can truly be deemed an unhuman and irredeemable monster.
The Creature is on at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff until Oct 10th
Image credit: Noel Dacey
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Georgia Winstone is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.