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Devil in the Detail (Portsmouth & tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Meta Morpho is an exciting new company, started by Toby Wilsher - co-founder and artistic director of Trestle Theatre Company from 1981 to 2004 – and affiliated to the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth. The company seeks to create entertaining theatre using a mixed toolbox of theatrical techniques blending strong narrative with text, mask, puppets, music, animation and choreography.

Devil in the Detail, written and directed by Wilsher – who also created the unique and fascinating masks worn throughout the production, and plays a leading role – is loosely based on John Maddison Morton’s Victorian one act play Box and Cox. Originally commissioned by the State Theatre of Erzurum (Turkey) in 2009, this is its first British presentation.

In a run-down part of town, a devious landlady and her ambitious daughter make ends meet by renting out a small apartment. Not satisfied with a single rent, they manage to let the flat to two men who never meet, as one works days and one works nights. To maintain the deception and keep their double pay, the conniving pair must keep the men apart, and refurbish the room twice a day. Both men have secrets hidden in the room; secrets that emerge with ghastly consequences when one of the men returns home early with a bad hangover.

Without the advantages of dialogue or facial expressions the actors – Toby Wilsher, James Greaves, Alan Riley, Sarah Thom, Jack Read and Michelle Baxter – expertly play out what is at times quite a complicated plot with an incredible array of movement, exaggerated and understated in turn, expertly conveying the situations in this black comedy, with everything from pathos to pantomime. With clever use of a variety of ‘mood music’ the audience is carried along with the action, steamrollering toward the inevitable conclusion.

The set design, by James Lewis, light and sound, by David Clarke, and costumes by Susie Maccione, conjure exactly the right, slightly surreal, air of the seedy world in which these characters live. But the real stars of the show are the amazing masks – which although remain constant and inanimate throughout, are designed in such a way that, not only can you tell the whole life story of the character just by looking into their face, but also encourage the audience subconsciously to transpose the emotion suggested by the actors body language into the mask – almost forgetting that they are masks at all.

Refreshing and rewarding, this new production promises great things to come from this exciting new theatre company.


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