Angels and demons

14 April 2017

Something essential is lost in this adaptation of David Almond's Skellig, says Florence Bell


Skellig fails again and again and again.

The pacing is non-existent, the plot is slow, the humour is cringey, the stagecraft is unimaginative and the actors struggle under the dull writing.

The adaptation of David Almond’s novel is lazy. For the first five minutes, whenever a character speaks, one of the ensemble follows their line with "said [name of character]". Narrators can be used really effectively in adaptations of novels but this is simply uninventive.

The use of puppetry is fine, but the only place where the play excels is in the use of shadows to tell part of the story. And even in this, the shadow work lacks intricacy. The use of it in only one scene makes little sense: the point of Skellig is that he’s a force capable of straddling dream and reality. We are shown the puppet, told: this is what Skellig looks like. Then later we are told that that’s not what he looks like at all. In Almond’s sophisticated narrative, Skellig is an unseen force. Here, ideas about the presentation of Skellig are confused.

The strange political ideas are also lost in adaptation. We get flashes of ideas about evolution and education, but they’re never fully explored. There are words in the script, but they’re not translating to ideas onstage. Michael is meant to float from "home to school and school to home" but nothing about the acting or the production gets to the heart of the monotony of Michael’s life.

Some of the humour is deeply unpleasant. There’s a distinctly unfunny scene where a woman with arthritis subjugates herself in an attempt to get her doctor’s romantic attention. The way this scene is treated by the production assumes that there’s something inherently amusing in old women flirting, or old women having romantic attractions, and that just isn’t the case. The same actor who plays the creepy doctor, Lee Jones, also plays Michael’s teacher, Rasputin. On the night I saw Skellig, he made an ad lib in horrible taste. When he told a student to "assume the position" (in order to teach a class about anatomy) and the audience laughed, he responded: "Those allegations were never proven." This is in really bad taste, and one of the most uncomfortable things I have heard in a theatre. References to child sex abuse can be triggering. Jokes about it are downright wrong.

If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable humour, this would be a children’s play in style. But even if it’s made by students I genuinely do not understand what it’s doing at NSDF. 


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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca