For regular attenders of shows at The Actors Centre, the immediately recognisable black box Tristan Bates Theatre backdrop is reassuring for people like me who, at the time of writing, haven’t ventured into the West End for some months now. I also rather like how a solitary camera is fixed in this production of Declan, which, the more I thought about it, more accurately replicates the theatrical experience than having multiple cameras at multiple angles. Instead, Jimbo (Alistair Hall) moves about, sometimes quite animatedly, recounting past events.
Or are they events? At times, Jimbo, still a schoolboy, appears to have a very active imagination. It’s evident that this is an intelligent young man, but it becomes rapidly evident that not everything he recalls should be taken as gospel. This isn’t quite the stuff of ‘poor theatre’ but every prop on stage is there for a reason, however relatively negligible – and, refreshingly, there’s a dependence on the script and its actor to deliver, without heavy reliance on sound and lighting effects. Hall even does his own sound effects, mimicking, for instance, grunting noises.
The twenty-five minute running time is not problematic in itself (some of Caryl Churchill’s plays are well under an hour) – except to say that there are a lot of narrative elements to Jimbo’s story, not all of which are properly explored in the time available, even if the production’s pace does not come across as rushed. There’s stuff about his parents, his grandmother – and, wait for it – King Edward II – amongst other things, including the ‘Declan’ of the show’s title. I suppose it’s deliberately ambiguous, and to some extent, I’m not against that in a play, as it’s better to let the audience have a think about what’s going on rather than present everything plainly on a proverbial silver platter.
Still, more questions are raised than answered as the story unfolds. In the muddling of cold, hard facts and the workings of Jimbo’s active mind, should one be concerned for the narrator? Some of the experiences he recalls are far from pleasant, and could possibly be masking some rather unhealthy and even abusive home life. It is also possible, without giving too much away, that Jimbo is traumatised by what (may or may not have) happened to Declan, which would up to a point explain his maze-like narrative. But there’s no faulting Hall’s engaging delivery in this brief but intriguing production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Declan, written and performed by Alistair Hall and directed by Alexis Gregory (of Riot Act, Arcola, West End, UK tours, and Sex/Crime, Soho Theatre), is launching online to raise critical funds during The Actors Centre’s period of closure.
Set in a Wiltshire suburb, Declan is a contemporary ghost story, exploring isolation, fear of the outside world and the distance between two friends. As Jimbo recalls the disappearance of his best friend Declan, he is plagued by ghosts of the past, present and future, and the boundaries between the real and imagined, the dead and the living, become blurred. With the scent of Declan thick in the air, this is a story of total obsession.