Heart of Darkness

Fri 7th – Sat 29th August 2015


Polly Jacobs

at 11:32 on 13th Aug 2015



Joseph Conrad's phrase "We live as we dream, alone" is beautifully brought to life through George Johnston's one-man adaption of Conrad's best-known tale.

Marlow's (Guy Clark) storytelling felt like that of an older brother who has seen too much. He seemed shipwrecked, lost amongst the boxes scattered around him. His whole story feels one of compulsion, of the need to convey an inexplicable journey through the Congo.

Whilst initially sceptical about the idea of a one-man adaptation, I found George Johnston's attempt to be smooth and successful, selecting the very best moments and phrases from the novella. It became entirely evident that this was a tale ideally suited to performance using a single actor.

Sparse staging gave the story a sense of timelessness and a dreamlike, disorientating quality that is in accordance with Conrad's tale. With bare feet and a crumpled blouse, Clark appeared nomadic but also vulnerable; he seemed ill-equipped for the otherworldly jungle that came to confront him, with its strange and alien values.

Throughout the performance, Clark shuffled cargo boxes around the stage, occasionally stacking them up, then clambering over them, embracing his physicality as they were transformed from a canoe, to a steamboat, to a deathbed, and more.

Clark's emotional scope was dazzling. In a flicker, a dying man contorting in pain could become a wife wracked with grief. I believe that every member of the audience was spoken to individually at some point, and Clark was unafraid of sustained eye contact. This intensity helped to ground the tale, taking it from one of almost hallucinatory description to one of sincerity and reliability. Characters were executed very well and with little confusion during conversation scenes.

The whole performance was intense and acutely personal, heightened by the small venue. Yet, deeply moving moments were often alleviated by wry comments, which stopped the play becoming too heavy. During the course of the play, it did feel as if Clark had aged enormously and that "the horror” had truly engulfed him in a poignant and irreversible way.

This is certainly a play to see, particularly if you have enjoyed the book, as the performance certainly does it justice.


Ben Driscoll

at 11:33 on 13th Aug 2015



Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s short novel, was adapted by Francis Ford Coppola into the lauded Apocalypse Now, an exhaustingly long, sprawling film thick with tropical confusion. George Johnston’s adaptation for the stage, though, is much more streamlined as a one-man-play, but equally engrossing.

Guy Clark plays Marlow, an English sailor recounting his exploits as a steam-boat captain for an ivory trading company who travelled deep into the Congo River to find Captain Kurtz, a top ivory trader turned demigod amongst the natives at his commanding post deep in the thick of the jungle. It is a dark exploration into the near-corporeal effects of power, greed and self-entitlement of man on himself.

Upon entering the theatre, Marlow is already onstage, eyes shut and sitting down; when the lights warm up his story begins without warning. It gives a sense of his eternal existence on the bare stage, forced to recount this hellish story over and over in his limbo. While the story is a very physical journey, chartering up and down the River Congo to the ‘heart of darkness’ and back, Marlow’s narration is an internal journey, which plumbs the depths of memory and insanity.

With only three large cargo boxes as props, Marlow shifts and slides them across the stage, responsive to his narrative, crawling over them to perform on. It resembles a physical mind puzzle, Marlow sliding them back and forth into different formations to try and find some pattern or understanding in the craze of his journey. “It seems as though I am telling you a dream” says Marlow, seemingly unsure of his story’s reality.

Clark’s command as an actor is determined by his visceral energy and his flicking between differently accented European characters - some done with a comic lightness that undermine their imperialist greed and authority, showing them up as what they are.

When Marlow finally meets Kurtz, Clark’s ability to create such difference between the two men is remarkable. Marlow’s constant feverish sweat and persistence towards scene setting plunges the audience into his past, and with clever lighting, a very subtle shift can denote the rising of a white sun over the fog or the glow of a distant tribal fire. You are there with him throughout.

With such brilliant characterisation and atmosphere, Heart of Darkness’ decision to keep to strict narrative swiftness refuses to let the audience to dwell and indulge in the perfectly pitched baseness of both Kurtz and his surrounding seething environment. Though a little unsatisfying when its conclusion arrives, Heart of Darkness remains an engrossing one-man show with haunting power.


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