Venue: Trinity Buoy Warf, London
Created and Directed by: Hamish MacDougall and James Yeatman
Dates: 2nd-27th April
Directors Hamish MacDougall and James Yeatman skillfully selected the renovated docking yard of Trinity Buoy Warf for the backdrop of Fourth Monkey Theatre Company’s latest creation, an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’. Subtly re-named ‘Project Colony’, a real project it must have been. With a cast of 45 exceptionally talented and enchanting young actors, ‘Project Colony’ is not just a presentation, but a bombarding visual and sensory experience of MacDougall and Yeatman’s re-creation of Kafka’s Colony.
It’s a drizzly April afternoon as we join a handful of strangers on a street corner in London. With the exception of the two girls in 1950’s-style costume grinning at us all, everybody looks normal, and a little nervous.
We are soon greeted by an excitable young woman who beams, “I’ll take you to the party now”. As we set off, the woman asks me where I’ve travelled from, to which I answer “Windsor”. I’m somewhat shocked by her excitable reply, “Is that in England?”. Confused,I stare at the woman for a moment, but as I look at the eager young face that smiles back
at me, I don’t want to disappoint her. “Yes”, I nod. “Oh, you’re so lucky, I’d love to go to England”.
We continue on in awkward yet friendly silence. I think the actress realises she has startled me, but she isn’t thrown: she continues to grin. I feel rather uncomfortable.The beauty of the production lies in the actors’ startling, and often chilling, ability to remain in role as both cast and audience are thrust into the fantastical world of the Colony.
The cast is divided into two parts, members of the new Colony and the natives of the Island, and followers of the “old regime”. The larger section are waiting for us as we reach our first destination of a renovated boat house, greeting the audience with a genuinely happy welcome. The set is striking: the company has transformed the space into a 50s-style dance hall, complete with a working bar and dance floor.
For the first part of the production we join the party, drinking and playing games, with each member of the cast in character and unfazed by our nervous reluctance to participate in the action. The resilience of these actors, who keep up this improvised façade for around 50 minutes, is outstanding for such a young cast.
Gradually, I begin to feel myself relax and even start to enjoy myself. Perfect timing for stage two. The sliding doors of the old dock room are wrenched apart and a set of hard-faced, smartly dressed officials march into the room. We are summoned with nothing more than a hand gesture and a look.
Part two is staged in a dark cellar, which, it soon becomes clear, is a torture chamber of the ‘old regime’. A vocal description of the regime’s execution process is accompanied by a beautifully choreographed depiction of the process of execution. The description is true to Kafka’s original short story, which should be read to understand the horror of the scene, rather than repeated here.
It is chilling, disturbing and, at times, gut-wrenching. The cast are so persuasive in their roles that I am in total awe. This is acting as I have never seen it: raw, ugly and uncomfortable. The company are not trying to impress or entertain us, they are trying to make us think. The scene is a bombardment on the senses and I am filled with a rush of relief as a young woman enters and invites us back to the party.
The third and final part of the production is a more ambiguous collaboration of the old and new regimes, staged back in the party room. The action unfolds in the middle of the dance floor as the two regime’s collide and everything spins out of control for actors and audience alike. The production concludes with a grisly execution in the corner of the room and the cast file out leaving the audience in a state of confusion.
After a few moments of silence, the audience begin to reawaken; we look at one another: “what just happened?”. I don’t think I could tell you, but whatever it was, it was mesmerizing.
This summer, Fourth Monkey return to Edinburgh Fringe festival with three new pieces: ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’, ‘Salome’ and ‘The Peculiar Tale of Pablo Picasso and The Mona Lisa’ written by Steven Green. If you’re at the Fringe this year, don’t miss them; as praised by the Fringe Review, they’re “definitely people to watch!”