Into the Wild meets On the Road in this volatile new play from critically acclaimed Oxfordshire theatre company Reverend Productions .
Suffocated by the monotony of the modern world, three strangers pack their bags and set out together to find their answers somewhere in the wilderness. Hunting to survive, writing their own rules, Nick, Krissy and Davis find peace in voluntary exile. But as their pasts catch up with them, they will face the true cost of starting again.
In the Kingdom of the Blind is the tenth play by Reverend Productions, a bold and innovative young theatre company. Since being founded in 2008, Reverend has produced new work in Oxford, Cambridge, Chester, London, Brighton and Edinburgh. The company specialises in developing new plays through a process of extended, immersive improvisation, with an emphasis on character driven storytelling.
Vivid story telling and gorgeous production values, a festival highlight… go see! – NSDF
£9 / £7 (concessions)
The story focuses on three characters who, after meeting over the internet, decide to forego modern life with its comfort and live ‘naturally’ in the wilderness. Naturally, this goes about as well as you would expect. Yet the focus of the play is really on the human interaction between three very different characters. Portrayed in an ultra-naturalistic manner, these characters are utterly believable. Helped by dialogue and the surprisingly convincing set, the play is almost fully immersive.
A few frailties in the script prevent the show from completing this. Occasionally topics of conversation are brought up somewhat randomly and then fizzle out to be replaced in a similar manner. When the conversations happen, they are quite engaging but it feels like the linking between scenes and conversation threads could be clearer. Deep secrets from the pasts of the characters are brought up without much provocation and occasionally left quite vague and unresolved. The present is much more interesting than the past for the characters. A single cough speaks many more words for the play than a revelation about one of the character’s shady past. The end also took me somewhat by surprise.
These quibbles aside however, the performance was exemplary. Brutally real and viscerally engaging, the play exposes you to the harsh realities of nature, both human and otherwise.
The play principally revolves around the relationships between Nick, Davis and Krissy as an inevitable love triangle forms and the men try to prove their strength to one another. The play is gripping, and the realistic dialogue is generally effective, perfectly capturing the conversational topics that would be expected from three strangers who anticipate spending the rest of their lives together. With nothing to hide behind, these very different characters are left alone with their emotions, as life in the wilderness becomes increasingly difficult.
The conception of the show is particularly interesting. Using ‘Into the Wild’ as their inspiration, the writers went into the woods fully in character, in order to see which direction their story would take. They recorded two hundred hours of footage, which was then cut down and re-scripted. Although the script is, therefore, remarkably realistic, it is also is often slow and clunky. ‘In the Kingdom of the Blind’ would benefit hugely from a director’s guidance: the actors are evidently too involved with the characters to see where improvements could be made.
The chemistry between Kit, Charlie and Brian comes across throughout the play. Although Charlie is the least convincing actor, she skilfully conveys the tension between Krissy and the two men, especially in the more intimate scenes. Her conversations with Nick are personal and emotional, whilst the jokiness between her and Davis bring some light-hearted amusement into an otherwise serious show. McMahon is particularly strong, scaring the audience in Davis’ more aggressive moments, whilst gradually revealing that his macho behaviour is merely a mask.
Additionally, the staging is remarkable. The stage is covered in leaves, with a tarpaulin tent suspended from the ceiling and a makeshift kitchen set up in one corner. However, the scene changes lack smoothness and could definitely be more efficient. In contrast to the atmospheric sound effects of rain and bird noises, loud, inappropriate music is played each time the set is reconstructed, which seems to contradict the play’s concept.
‘In the Kingdom of the Blind’ is a complex, well researched and thought-provoking piece of original writing. There is a real truth behind the performance and the actors are undeniably invested, both in their characters and the story itself. It is a shame that Venue 13 is not located closer to the heart of the Fringe, as ‘In the Kingdom of Dreams’ deserves to pull a bigger crowd.
The new play follows three people in their escape from normal life into the forest. Nick has a passion for survival in the wild and being at one with nature, whilst his companions Krissy and Davis are fleeing from the ugly parts of their personality which plagued their lives in society. Ultimately, their differences disturb the newly-found peace they had found in the wilderness.
The concept of the production was very interesting. Admittedly, many plays have enjoyed looking into people and their selfish, animalistic instincts. However, this production made survival feel more matter-of-fact and contemporary. At the beginning, for instance, Nick (Kit Spink) was cutting up a rabbit carcass according to his Ray Mears survival guide.
The set was fairly minimalist and did not detract from the interactions between the characters. With a floor of leaves and a few bags and plastic covers, it did just enough to make the audience feel like they were looking at a spot in the forest. Meanwhile, though the choice of music between scenes was odd – with songs such as ‘On the Road Again’ – the sound was similarly effective in creating this environment.
The dynamic between the characters is another of the play’s strengths. Nick acts very awkwardly in all of his social interactions, coming across very clearly in contrast to the laid-back but aggressively selfish Davis (Brian McMahon). Interestingly, Krissy’s (Charlie Howitt) character was much less defined. She began as a quiet girl with feelings for the awkward Nick, but later reveals her ongoing struggle to resist being unfaithful due to the ‘thrill’ it gives her.
These characters came about largely from improvisation before writing the script. Whilst this creates interesting personalities, their choice not to use a director is probably responsible for the monotony in their performances. They were largely believable in their characters – especially Davis and his cruel selfish streak – but there wasn’t enough variation. In a play littered with (frequently effective) silences, and with little action, it relies on the characters showing more powerful emotions – especially when being driven mad in a forest.
Similarly, the script lacked certain subtleties which would have refined the characters. At a few points Krissy revealed new thoughts and aspects of her life which often seemed very abrupt and too matter-of-fact. During the play, the trio’s situation became more and more serious as Krissy became ill, but this change was not reflected quite enough – the intensity of expression did not increase.
Overall, 'In the Kingdom of the Blind' felt like a very well thought-out devised piece, but not yet the great production that it could be.