Photo credit: The New Theatre
If you go down to the woods today
There’s something a little disconcerting about entering The New Theatre for ‘Half Light,’ directed by Mollie Molumby. To begin with, the set looks like something left over from a 1970’s Christmas Special, with pine trees, book shelves, helium balloons and an array of other paraphernalia. Including an impish character crouched hiding behind a Christmas tree. And what looks like a 70’s musical, folk family nestled to the front, singing the same piece of music over and over like a cult mantra. All perma-smiles and positivity, playing flutes, guitar, recorder and child’s xylophone, they want to teach the world to sing because they see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. 70’s motifs run riot through ‘Half Light’ which feels like a child’s storytelling show, told in the style of any number of countless children’s programmes where a young cast of overly enthusiastic actors leap about to bring it all alive. Indeed, in ‘Half Light’ the story is there to serve the needs of the telling. And it is a telling well told, being clever, funny and utterly engaging.
Story is perhaps the least satisfying thing about ‘Half Light’ as ten-year old Robin goes on a quest to find his father who disappears on his 40th birthday, kidnapped by a monster and taken into the snow covered forest. Along the way he meets an innkeeper and her strange guests, a philosophical crow, attends a party and meets, quite possibly, the love of his life, even if he is only ten. There’s dancing, singing, floating away on balloons and an orchestra of clever musical instruments, but at the heart of it all is a ten-year-old boy looking for his Dad.
Attempts to scratch beneath the surface of ‘Half Light’ for something of depth is like panning for gold in a near dry river bed. You might find an occasional nugget here or there, a playful exploration of the patronising way children’s stories are sometimes told, a recognition of the black monster that stalks middle aged men who feel they’ve failed their family and themselves. But ‘Half Light’ really doesn’t have any darkness to it and is at its least satisfying when it tries to, as in the monologue by the crow, referencing Maya Angelou. Indeed, ‘Half Light’ is at its best when it forgets all that nonsense and floats on helium balloons, sings Italian/Mexican love songs or boogies till dawn, all awash in a soundscape of clever and perfectly timed sounds effects.
However, there are still some scary bits to ‘Half Light.’ That many of its youthful cast and crew are still students, or recent graduates, is particularly scary. For they’re scarily good. Fionn Foley as Robin, who also takes the accolades for song writing, charm and interacting wonderfully with the audience, is simply excellent. As are Martha Grant, Kerill Kelly, Juliette Crosbie and Richard Durning as the supporting band, cast and sound effects team. There’s a wonderful ensemble performance on display, which seems to include a frighteningly good technical team. Set designer, Ursula McGinn, manages to both fill every corner of the stage, and make space for its five strong cast, without ever making it look claustrophobic. Ellen Gorman’s lighting design is so evocative and well executed its gives credence to the belief in reincarnation, for no one this young can be that good. That Mollie Molumby manages to marshal all these theatrical forces into something so cohesive and enjoyable suggests a director in the making well worth watching for the future.
If you go down to the woods today and catch ‘Half Light,’ you’re in for a big surprise. It’s not the half and half it purports to be, rather it’s all shiny bright, slick, schmaltzy, clean good fun. But so wonderfully, cleverly and hilarious done. A perfect Christmas show any time of year for all ages.
‘Half Light’ runs at The New Theatre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe until September 17th
For more information, visit The New Theatre or Tiger Dublin Fringe