I was fortunate enough to see Rhum and Clay’s outstanding version of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the Watermill Theatre last year, so I was excited to see their return to this beautiful venue with their latest offering.
Set in the shadowy smog of 1940s Los Angeles, Hardboiled… starts at the end. We meet the fallen version of our eponymous hero, Sam Shadow, being interviewed by three cops. Immediately, I feel as though the stage is full of people. The perfectly choreographed physicality of the three actors fills the space, juxtaposed by Shadow’s (Julian Spooner) stillness and the interior monologue/voiceover that sets the scene. Already I love the show, and we’re only minutes into it.
Hardboiled… is, in Rhum and Clay’s own words, paying homage to the Film Noir genre; the classic crime films of the 1940s. And watching the show is just like watching a film. I was hypnotised throughout. The physical poetry of the first scene is a constant, almost relentless, force, carrying the audience along for the ride. The company (of just four people) are on-stage through the entire performance and each physical movement and use of props, scenery, costume or lighting, is painstakingly thought out – this is a tight and polished technical work of art.
David Harris’ sparse scenery is beautiful in its simplicity and multi-functional use, especially when coupled with the moody lighting (Lawrence T Doyle) and period soundtrack (Neil Starke). It’s difficult to select a favourite set-piece from such a well put-together performance, but I did love the scene in the car – ingenious use of a map of Los Angeles and a couple of pin-prick lights. Impossible to describe coherently, but brilliant in its simplicity – you’ll just have to go and watch it!
The all-male theatre company are joined by an honorary fourth member for this production. Well, every Film Noir needs its femme fatale, doesn’t it? And although Rhum and Clay are perfectly adept at playing the odd female character (indeed, Matthew Wells drags-up briefly in Hardboiled…), they definitely made the right choice in getting outside help in the form of Jess Mabel Jones. Jones fits into the troupe perfectly, and switches between the characters of Scarlett (aforementioned femme fatale) and Betty (Sam Shadow’s spunky secretary) almost imperceptibly. The same goes for Christopher Elwood (Addison/Stringer) and Matthew Wells (Joe/Lewis) – their training at Jacques Lecoq School in Paris shines through in their ability to convincingly swap characters before the audience’s eyes. However, it is Julian Spooner’s performance as Sam Shadow that pulls these characters together. As with his performance of Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, Spooner is the anchor of the piece, an agent, if you will, who leads the audience through the twists and turns of this complex tale of corruption and violence, all while experiencing a journey of his own.
As you can probably tell, I loved this show. I would happily go and watch it over and over again, and I look forward to future collaborations between Rhum and Clay and Beth Flintoff (co-creator).