Jack Dean: Threnody for the Sky Children
Electric Circus, Lizard Lounge, Venue 98, 36-39 Market Street
(August 12-15, 18-22, 11:30am-12:30pm)
Review: Phoebe Walker
Jack Dean’s oneiric, attic-based foray into post-apocalyptic Britain comes with by far the most intimate setting I’ve yet experienced at the Fringe. The audience huddles on armchair and futons around a stage eerily cluttered with the dusty memorabilia of childhood: an Action Man, a transformer figurine, a crowd of glassy-eyed stuffed animals. Jack Dean plays James, survivor of a horrific epidemic in which humans have metamorphosed into rampaging animals, and now sits, his mind wandering, in the attic of his childhood home, mourning his absent girlfriend and the loss of their life together as ‘Sky Children’.
Dean offers his audience an intriguing admixture of lyric storytelling, theatre and uneasy satire. The performance slowly builds up a portrait of this dark future world, creating a past in which President Schwarzenegger led the USA and Yorkshire seceded from Britain; when Tony Benn appeared in hologram form at Glastonbury and British counties formed military juntas. Dean is a compelling performer, managing, in James, to combine painful vulnerability with quasi-teenage hubris and slivers of delusion. There’s comedy, too, when he takes on the guise of American ‘Steve’, leader of the ‘Unrequited Truth’ Party and current ruler of ‘colonized’ Britain. “I’m your friend, your mate”, he smiles wolfishly, sitting in front of a television screen filled with simulated crackling flames. The lighting in this show is inspired, as Dean moves nimbly about the set to create moments of light and shade, or malevolent red mesh-effect, that helps to create such a disquieting atmosphere.
The subtle physicality in ‘Threnody’ is impressive; the moment where Dean stands holding an Action Man aloft like Icarus, letting feathers tumble over him, was especially poignant. This is a story confidently, quietly told, assured of the power of its own narrative which, quite apart from the sensational storyline, hums with linguistic style. James’ girlfriend, turning into a bird, sprouts “spurs of bone”, for example, and the monologist delivery cuts expertly from frenzied escape hypotheses to poignant, understated sparks of philosophy. This is a disorientating performance to immerse yourself in just before lunch, but Dean’s conviction, imagination and flair more than make it worth watching.