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The Irish Giant

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Cartoon de Salvo’s The Irish Giant is a story of religion versus science, of saving one’s soul versus scientific curiosity. Set in 18th-century Britain, the story concerns Charles Byrne (Neil Haigh), an Irishman who has become a phenomenon in London thanks to his extraordinary height.

John Hunter (Brian Logan) is a surgeon obsessed with dissection; always on the look for a new specimen to add to his collection, he tries to kidnap – and kill – Charles, with help from Mr Harrison (Alex Murdoch). The giant, however, is not ready to die. A deeply faithful, if somewhat simple, man, he is worried about his soul and does not want his body used for dissection.

Cartoon de Salvo has a reputation for devised work that combines story-telling, live music and improv; it also call itself the UK’s number one contemporary folk theatre company. This production is certainly witness to the team's ability to combine different art forms, including, in this case, animation (by Rebecca Hurst) that, projected at different points in the production, adds an interesting fairytale feel to the narrative. There is also play of illusion, light and shade in the atmospheric setting of the Vault at Southwark Playhouse. And the folk sensibility is present in the melodic tunes that the three cast members (and company founders) sing with great charm and vocal ability.

There is no doubt about the versatility of this company and its ability to charm and entertain. However, this 90-minute production feels awkwardly long as the many scene changes are at times poorly executed and hinder the flow. There is a sense that the improvisation process got in the way of the performers, who are sloppy during exits and entrances and as they move props to and fro. Especially at the start, it all looks rather messy. This is also the case when the three performers double up for various secondary characters.

All this aside, The Irish Giant makes an intriguing production for lovers of storytelling and unusual devised theatre, and is another strong addition to Southwark Playhouse's rich and varied season.


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