Under the Eye of the Sun

The Magdalen Players have booked out the BT this week with a challenging double bill, entitled Under the Eye of the Sun. The same production team is responsible for both Simon Armitage's Eclipse and Orpheus, a translation and adaptation of Jean Cocteau's 1949 screenplay. Lisa Thiel directs the former, and Marie-Louise Crawley the latter. Neither play is easy to stage.

Eclipse is a magnificently poetic piece of theatre. It recounts the tale of a band of children who accompany their parents to Cornwall to witness the eclipse of the sun. There they meet a wandering soul called Lucy Lime. The tale that ensues is a strange pastiche of The Famous Five Go Camping and The Lord of the Flies.

Played superficially it runs the risk of becoming little more than an account of some very irritating and uninteresting children a damned sight too big for their boots. However, Armitage's often incantatory and hypnotic poetry - ideally - leads one to a quite different, ominous interpretation of what unfolds on stage. Despite a cast of talented actors, it is a pity that this production is a bit frayed at the edges - first night blues aside. Often it lacks pace and energy. Often one feels it loses focus. As a result, the darkness of the text is not highlighted consistently enough. As a result, too, the eventual crescendo is not as well-motivated as it should be. Nonetheless, Robert Wells is a convincing Klondike: he has a brooding presence on stage. Penny Woods, the tomboy, seems to have stepped off the last ferry from Kirrin Island. Adrian Gillott's rendition of Midnight, a blind boy, is also good - understated and rather interesting. (I only wished the cast would set a spell on the person whose infernal mobile went off midway through the show.)

The second half of the programme - a modern rendition of the Orpheus myth - is, I feel, quite excellent. Orpheus is cleverly and creatively directed: from the very outset, when the cast bursts noisily onto the stage to sketch a Parisian cafe scene, I was captivated. The set, props and lighting all contribute to a very polished whole. The only technical hitch is the miming, which is uneven and mostly untidy. The cast is consistently strong: Simon Woods as Orpheus, Jo Marsh as Death, Dave Wood as Heurtebise, and David Yates, as a clutch of sundry characters, are superb. A nice touch, too, is the resonant voice of John Fuller, which weaves the narrative together.

On the whole, it is an evening of good, if difficult, theatre. The plays do comment rather interestingly on one another: both deal - at least to some extent - with the often frightening power of poetry.

Jean Meiring 8/2/00