The Island of Doctor Moreau

Wed 14th – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

James Bell

at 21:40 on 21st Aug 2013

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Let’s get straight to the point: ‘The Island of Dr Moreau,’ a piece of physical theatre based on the 1896 novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, is practically perfect in every way. As a cello struck up an ominous tune and the Piper Theatre Productions cast burst onto the stage, it soon became obvious that we were about to witness something very special indeed.

What immediately struck me was the physical exuberance of the actors. In a whirlwind of flailing limbs, nimble jumps and complex lifts the production expertly evoked the story of a young medical student who finds himself shipwrecked on an island where the enigmatic Dr Moreau is wreaking havoc with nature by conducting his morally dubious experiments on the boundary between the human and the animal.

The performers’ physical dexterity was nothing short of incredible and went far beyond what I thought physical theatre could achieve. I didn’t feel that the production was lacking props or scenery and there was never any confusion over which animal the cast were trying to depict, such was their confidence and expert precision. What was even more impressive was that there was nothing these performers weren’t willing to take on. A sex scene that could have been horribly awkward was negotiated calmly and the show’s many murders never felt gratuitous or farcical; it really seemed like there was nothing that this group couldn’t do.

And that’s not all. The sections of mime were mesmerising and the script surprisingly funny - a caricature of Nietzsche being a personal highlight. However, its real strength lies in the rhythm that the cast build up over the course of the hour. Through a combination of entrancing sound and hypnotic visuals, the full force of Well’s parable transmitted to the audience. This is what ultimately raised ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’ above the common herd: it constituted an assault on all the senses that laid bare the paradoxes of human nature and left me with no recourse other than to simply stare and drink in its brilliance.

If you pushed me to say something negative about this production, I suppose the performance space, which is long and narrow, really didn’t give the cast enough room to work with. But this is a minor quibble; all in all, Piper Theatre Productions has given us an hour of beautiful and inspiring theatre that doesn’t contain a wasted moment or an extraneous breath. Not to be missed.

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Mona Damian

at 02:13 on 22nd Aug 2013

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Piper Theatre Productions' adaption of ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ proves to be a roaring success. Through some incredibly talented acting, including imaginative physical theatre and dance, H. G. Wells’ sci-fi classic is brought to life. Without respite, the audience follows young Edward Prendick’s disturbing journey to the Doctor’s island 'paradise' with all the wild horrors in store for him there. The infamous creations of the Doctor – rabbits, dogs and pumas, vivisected and spliced into human beings – are chillingly evoked and we are left fully sharing Edward’s conclusions on the inherent darkness of human beings, far more terrifying than any wild-beast.

The beautifully choreographed movement of the cast simply manages to entrance everyone in the audience. Accompanied by the haunting score written and performed by Lucas Syed, the five actors perfectly capture the full range of nightmarish beings, be that animal, hybrid or human. In a daring stroke of physical theatre genius, all the roles (with the exception of Doctor Moreau himself, portrayed by Christopher Cariker, and the Puma, chillingly conjured up by Eiko Kawashima) are filled by different cast members throughout the production. What could have been a disastrously confusing stage decision, gives this adaption an unsurpassable depth and flair.

It is admirable how little in the way of props or backing soundtrack is required to evoke everything from nightmarish jungle scenes to a shipwrecked vessel. Strong and striking facial expressions certainly held me entirely engaged with the savage nature of every single one of Moreau’s creations, as well as the scientific genius himself. Only the addition of a couple of bandage strips, scarves and three suitcases were needed to complete the incredibly vivid narration. It is a slight shame that the cast did not have a little more space to showcase their fine work; a little more stage area might have allowed for their skilful movement to make just a shade more of an impact than it already did.

The denouement of the production combined several highly poignant moments juxtaposed with scenes of intense action and nail-biting tension. What we are left with is a roller coaster of emotions, doubting humanity itself and certainly chilled at the thought of scientific research running amok. This is a must see for anyone wishing to view a fresh lease of life spliced into H. G. Wells’ haunting story by a cutting edge adaption.

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