Promising playwright Orlando Wells' latest offering The Tin Horizon combines cunning wit, profound reflections and gritty psychological aspects to provide a testing but highly entertaining evening at Battersea's Theatre503.
The play centres on taxidermist Vladimir (Nick Malinowski) - who also moonlights as a scientist, having discovered a cancer vaccine - as he is forced to make life-changing decisions on one particularly extraordinary day. An impending visit from his ex-girlfriend sparks flashbacks to a happier, simpler time when complications of present-day police attention and possible arrest weren’t clouding the air of his taxidermy shop.
Wells ignores conventional chronology and instead jumps sporadically from present to past - a technique that enhances its originality while keeping viewers on their toes. This is a play that digs deeply into the psyche; it feels highly interactive without ever directly acknowledging the audience. The canvass of themes is impressive, incorporating references to unethical human treatment with abusive testings on “undesirables” - reminiscent of Third Reich practices - while also questioning the power and deception of religion with the inclusion of a possible Messiah figure.
But the smartness of Wells' script would be lost without performances of equal distinction. As ex-couple Vladimir and Meteora, Malinowski and Tanya Franks carry the story and add a welcome element of romance to the proceedings. Jumping back and forth over a period of fifteen years, their relationship provides the spine of the show and provides most of the emotional punch.
Among the supporting cast, it's the comedic roles of Vermin and Walt that stand out the most. Thomas Morrison as Vermin - the assistant at Vladimir’s taxidermy shop – is superb as the disabled but endearing boy who fantasizes of one day working as an actor. And Gary Shelford breaks the tension of the heavier moments with an hilarious portrayal of the stammering, anxious Walt.
Add into the mix Anna Bliss-Scully's versatile set – morphing from basement taxidermy shop to dimly-lit prison – and you have one of the best nights out currently to be found on the fringe. This is cleverly written and skillfully performed, beguiling from beginning to end.