THE IRISH GIANT
by Cartoon de Salvo.
Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 9 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 June.
Science and humanity at odds in often inventive show.
Once again Southwark Playhouse’s Vault is an atmospheric venue. For while Charles Byrne, who hit the headlines in the 1780s as The Irish Giant (closer to 8 than 7 feet tall), was a pleasantly cheerful young fellow, his height made him a subject of interest to medical dissector John Hunter, who kept a watch on him, waiting for a predicted early death in order to dissect the tall corpse.
And Cartoon de Salvo’s piece is framed by the dissection of Hunter’s cadaver, according to his late wishes that his students search for the physical seat of the soul. They finish surrounded by body parts, unable to discover Soul as such.
This being a physical theatre company, the images work through exaggeration and surrealist logic, the students’ search starting as they dive into the late doctor’s corpse. There are graphics, economically showing the Giant’s journey through England as a sideshow, in cities including Milton Keynes – presumably a gentle anachronism, like the paperback Hunter’s assistant Harrison reads while keeping watch on Charley, chatting like a friend but always waiting for his chance to jump in first for the corpse.
Byrne nearly had the last laugh, requiring his body be buried at sea in a lead-lined coffin, but money talked with the clergyman and Hunter got his man (it was more likely drink that did for the Giant rather than anything more specific to his stature, as Hunter had predicted).
Like many devised pieces, when it hits it’s forceful – Alex Murdoch, cross-dressed as the burr-like Harrison, keeps a close, if casual-seeming watch on Byrne, like a friendly jailer. Brian Logan’s Hunter looks detached as he walks magisterially. Neil Haigh’s Byrne is an innocent contrast to them.
Music and graphics speed the story and give a conscious performance element. Yet there are times matters seem to meander, where sharper dialogue would make or develop a point clearly.
Never mind; Cartoon de Salvo has its own way, and in this they light an intriguing element of the Enlightenment, scientific progress and the grasping towards evolution carried out in dark chambers and with secret schemes.
Cast: Alex Murdoch, Brian Logan, Neil Haigh.
Director: Alex Murdoch.
Designer: Jean Chan.
Lighting: Andy Purves.
Composer: Daniel Marcus Clark.
Illusions: Paul Murray.
Animator: Rebecca Hurst.