The contrast between the Pleasance Courtyard at the height of the Fringe and the interior of Pleasance One could not be more defined; outside there are crowds, conversation and laughter, food and drink, occasionally even brief sunshine, while inside there is a stage which speaks of decay, dimmed lights and a broken chandelier, stuffed birds with black wings outstretched in motionless flight, an array of cabinets from which bulge unidentifiable items, while the scratchy sound of static fills the air.
Welcome to the office of Alex Crowley, teacher of creative writing, delivering the closing lecture of the last day of term which involves him telling one of the stories which made him briefly famous back in the day, though as it transpires his celebrated collection Darktales is soon to be reissued to coincide with the twenty first anniversary of original publication.
To that end, Alex has invited a former student whom he has not seen in eight years to meet him after class. Never having made a mark with his own fiction, Jack Langton is now a semi-successful blogger, and it is Alex’s hope that an interview for Jack’s site will help him “break into new media,” a mutually beneficial arrangement.
At least, that is the stated reason for the invitation, but as becomes apparent all to swiftly there is much on the agenda beyond the questions in Jack’s notebook and boosting pre-orders of the new edition, as Tim Arthur’s script swirls around a maelstrom of probing questions, misdirection and veiled accusations, the history between the two men far from the professional relationship of a former teacher and his student.
Their arguments are focused on two subjects, the crushing criticism Alex heaped upon Jack’s work which he regarded as unfair and unjustified, especially now that he recognises Alex’s own work as having been lifted from other masters of the genre (“Always steal from the dead, they’re less likely to sue or claim royalties”), and Jack’s former classmate Lucy who once “acquired him” but who chose to keep him at a distance.
A veteran of stage and screen whose resume stretches as far back as Bugsy Malone, Andrew Paul is given the opportunity to make an immediate impression as the embittered Alex with his opening monologue, and flitting between styles Darktales keeps the audience and the performers on their toes, the stories offered by the two men of a markedly different style, one a traditional ghost story and the other graphically modern with its “handprints of crimson horror up the walls.”
Initially overshadowed in his hesitant and flat delivery, as the play progresses it becomes apparent that this is a conscious choice of Sean Ward whose conniving and belligerent transformation is equal to his more experienced rival’s performance. As Lucy, Carrie Marx is very much a supporting role though an important one, her random entrances from different parts of the auditorium part of the clever staging evident throughout and more effective than the broadcasting of her voice from loudspeakers when she is not present.
An electronic intrusion into the illusion created onstage heralded by the hiss of the PA system, that may be the only misstep of director Dan Clarkson, for despite Alex’s admission that he has stolen from Saki, Poe, Lovecraft, Hallowe’en and Friday the 13th this is a well constructed and performed show which will appeal to aficionados of all those diverse influences.
Darktales continues at the Pleasance until 29th August