By Mark Bolsover
Big Telly Theatre attempt a wry, humourous adaptation of the gothic literary classic by Charles Maturin, that plays well on the structural and narrative complexities of the original text, but seems somehow lost in the space of the ballroom.
The play revolves around the legend of ‘the Wanderer’: a man who made a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for immortality and, most importantly, freedom from the world of ordinary human suffering, at the cost of being forced to eternally wander the earth, and the stories of the souls he has visited in their darkest moments in an attempt to seduce them into joining him in his pact.
In essence, this is a story about the seductive power of storytelling.
From Melmoth’s very basic and sparse set and crude, ready-made lighting design, it became clear that this was a show conceived for touring smaller, low-tech theatre spaces and this made the choice of the Assembly Room’s very large and well-equipped ballroom seem an odd one.
The adaptation maintained some of the structural complexities of the Maturin novel, with narrative frames gradually and confusingly accumulating, as characters told stories told to them by characters who had themselves been told stories by(…) and the overall structure worked in the end to give the piece a satisfying cohesion, of sorts.
However, whilst the use of masks and non-descript diction and costume worked well in establishing a timeless piece, and though the young cast (with a notable performance by the narrator/protagonist) did well with the wry, knowing self-consciousness of the piece, the humour, which hinged around slightly jarring and non-sequitur pop-culture references, fell flat and left the issues of time and setting somewhat confused. For this reason the piece never quite achieved the chilling gothic edge it was clearly aiming for.
—This would have been a good show for a smaller, more intimate venue more in keeping with its design.
Melmoth the Wanderer, Assembly Rooms, 3-25 August at 16.10 (1hr10)