views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Noonday Demons
The King's Head Theatre
23rd July 2015


Jake Curran and Jordan Mallory-Skinner as St. Pior and St. Eusebius

Photography provided by Rough Haired Pointer

There's always something exciting about going to see a Rough Haired Pointer production - you know you're in for a treat. This company, helmed by artistic director Mary Franklin, represents some of the best talent on the fringe circuit. Noonday Demons is not as immediately funny ha-ha as say, the company's previous hits The Young Visiters or The Diary of a Nobody, but starts seriously, disintegrating into Pythonesque humour and farce, going on to comment on the absurdity of extremism. Coming up to the best part of 50 years on, it's a statement which is still deeply relevant.

Lighting designer Seth Rook Williams seems to have taken inspiration from Lazarus Theatre, with a moody smoke-filled opening, which sets the scene for a dark, dank underground base. Benedictine monk St Eusebius (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) stands in that cave full of his own excrement (life's a piece of shit, when you look at it, with help from set designer Christopher Hone). Loin-cloth clad Eusebius is bound in chains and living on a meagre diet of olives and water. When a fellow monk, St Pior (Jake Curran), tries to set up home in the same ghastly setting, the two fight to prove who's had the worst life so far and therefore who is the best at being holy. It's not really the sort of competition anyone else would want to win.

There's a joke there, and one which makes a valid point about religious extremism and one-upmanship but playwright Peter Barnes effectively only has the one. There are several variants on the gag yet it's hard to justify stretching it out over a full 80 minutes. It's both funny and bleak to see the two men so desperate to win the misery off, equating suffering with goodness rather than, say, goodness with goodness, but Barnes doesn't really say much more than this, over and over again.

Mallory-Skinner commands the stage for the first 40 minutes, bringing out some of the solemnity from The Boy Who Cried but in the biggest departure from Rough Haired norm, performing by himself. It's not that Mallory-Skinner is unconvincing, far from it, switching between Eusebius and the devil with some wonderful physical comedy which has Franklin's tight direction all over it. However, when Curran enters halfway through, the two actors are finally able to feed off each other's energy and really ramp up the humour with plenty of slapstick. Individually, they're both excellent. Together they're far stronger. As the pair grapple and squabble, they become a ridiculous blur of maggot infested skin and bones, neither's suffering thus far able to give him the mental discipline to resist such pettiness.

Hone's design is more than just a pretty... well, pile of dung. The actors are able to easily scale up and down it and it become a backdrop for all the devil's temptations. Although the colourful projection completely obscures the mound, you can't quite forget that no matter what the demon promises Eusebius, it's just masking shit rather than truly transforming his situation.

Noonday Demons is undeniably a good play, but it doesn't quite match the calibre of some of Rough Haired Pointer's previous work. Barnes, like Joe Orton, has had his weaker moments, and this is perhaps another script which hasn't previously attracted much interest for a reason. The company are, as always, superb, but the material they have to work with here is inescapably somewhat thin. When you're left wanting more after seeing a good show, you know you've led a spoiled life. Time for me to go stand in a cave for a bit.

Noonday Demons opened on 9th July and runs until 1st August 2015 at the King's Head Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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