The isolation that so many of us have found ourselves in during this prolonged lockdown will almost certainly have left some of us feeling distanced from the outside world, and while Alistair Hall’s new play, Declan, is absolutely not about Covid, it’s themes could not be more relevant.
This new, one-man play is slated to make its on-stage debut at The Actor’s Centre later this year, but with the ongoing uncertainty over when theatres can reopen, the creative team have released an online version, ready to whet our appetites for when we can watch it in person. With tickets priced at an exceptionally reasonable £3, it will also help to ensure The Actor’s Centre can survive this period of being dark.
Hall is both writer and performer in what is marketed as a modern ghost story, but the shadowy demons in this story are more psychological than spectral. On the face of it, our protagonist, Jimbo is mourning the disappearance of his best friend, Declan. But the short piece delves much deeper in to Jimbo’s immature psyche and uncovers a host of scenarios where reality and fiction have merged to the point of mystification.
Jimbo’s mother is no longer on the scene, so he buys his father a Barbie doll to remind him of her, King Edward II often appears at the window, and a vampire has been drinking his blood. The fragmented pieces of story leave us questioning which parts of Jimbo’s life are mere fantasy. Despite the many questions Declan throws our way, we find ourselves gripped by revelation after revelation from the man-child that stands before us.
And stand before us he does, on a stage, that of the John Thaw Studio to be precise. The same stage the production will eventually play to live audiences. After three months of archive recordings and plays performed over Zoom, an actor performing on stage has quite an invigorating feel to it, even if it is still delivered virtually.
The stage is scattered with the few props which are utilised to great effect, just enough to contribute to the storytelling and no more. Director, Alexis Gregory’s touch can be seen most prominently in the moments of high emotion, or deepest reflection. The occasional man-made sound effects are another of Gregory’s trademarks stamped firmly on this project.
Of particular note with this digital recording is the quality of the film. Videography comes from award-winning filmmaker Layke Anderson, and while the camera remains static throughout it allows you to feel like you are sitting in your seat in the auditorium, and it may just be the best in the house. Digital recordings lack the intimacy of live theatre, but here it often does feel like you are in the room with Alistair Hall’s Jimbo.
Hall’s performance demonstrates the writer’s affinity with his own work, it feels authentic and natural and although we can never fully gauge Jimbo’s true compulsions or motivations, we are drawn in to his suburban Wiltshire world with a sense of empathy at the fore.
Declan is a new play that should excite us, certainly because it is fantastically written and performed, but also because it demonstrates that high quality theatre can still exist. When it does make it on to a stage with an audience it’s sure to be a hit, but until that time this digital offering reminds us how enthralling theatre can really be.
Declan is available to stream until 28th June 2020 at The Actor’s Centre Website, and raises funds for the #SupportTheActorsCentre appeal.
Main Image c. Jamie Luke Scoular