Sinister, tragic and hopeful in equal measure, Under the Dark Moon sees Bristol’s wonderfully creative Invisible Circus leading us on an adventure through our fears.
The audience is drawn in by a foreboding narrator (Doug Francis), a Fagin-like character who invites us with sharp, cruel humour to take pleasure in watching his carnival of tortured souls – because, he proclaims, they will make us feel better. There is something familiarly Dickensian about the whole performance – an empathy for broken people, and not without a glimmer of hope.
The action follows seven different characters, all imprisoned by their own grief and self-doubt, wandering lost and alone until they are found and lured into performing their pain.
We are told the story of Isadora (Abigail Evans), driven mad by the death of her child, and her husband Orio (Christopher Bull), who is racked with guilt and retreats from the world, hiding behind a cloth mask. We also hear the plight of Mr Knotford (Jack Rees), who is so full of paranoia that he literally ties himself up in knots, unable to unwind. Crippled by their melancholy and the weight of their memories, each character is easily dominated and exploited by the narrator.
Though this all sounds rather black, in typical Invisible Circus style, there is hope and a twisted version of a fairytale ending in sight. Slowly, we see each character break free of their shackles, and of the narrator’s clutches, thorough a visually impressive series of silks, ropes, pulleys and strings.
Each story is full of dark humour, and the whole production playfully mocks the power that guilt, neurosis and fear can have over our lives. The cruel, cynical narrator taunts the audience about people’s willingness to exploit the weak for their own amusement, even tearing up a copy of this very magazine with himself on the cover (we won’t hold it against him). He both laughs at us and gives us a warning. Break free of your fears, or they will break you.
Funny, tragic and visually astonishing, this is a unique, imaginative and very creative performance. The brilliantly playful live score is as crucial as the acting. The characters’ various flaws and miseries will make you question and laugh at your own hang-ups, while being dazzled by all the fun of the circus.
Under the Dark Moon continues at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, April 18. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/underthedarkmoon.html
Photos by Joe Clarke