Thursday, October 08, 2009


Mercury Theatre Community Production

at the old Tram Shed


“I was thinking that this was someone's workplace, their weekday world ...”
The coffee-break conversation strayed a little from the themes of the production, but still included witch trials in Coggeshall and the arrival of AIDS in Chelmsford.

We were inmates for the evening of the Depot, “auditors and actors” in the Mercury company's tenth anniversary production.

Arriving at the now disused tram shed on
Magdalen Street, we have a drink in the bar [top deck of a London bus parked in the forecourt], study the rules and regulations, and don our overalls and caps. To guard against pigeon droppings, they said. But dehumanizing, too, making us faceless figurants in the drama. Waiting in a dingy yard, washing hanging over our heads, one woman, actor or audience, hard to tell in the gloomy half-light, is convinced we're queuing for the Camps.

Many of the ushers and extras are members of Colchester's diverse community. But there are familiar Mercury faces, too. Roger Delves-Broughton, Teddy Grimes to Christine Absalom's Marmalade Emma, begs for a piece of chocolate. Ignatius Anthony preaches revolution. The red-hooded figure, central to the soap-opera part of the plot, weaves through the throng, half-heartedly pursued.

Once inside the sheds, the mood is sombre, often confused. The dream-like spaces are impressive, atmospherically lit, with sound and smoke adding to the filmic effect. There are recognizable snatches of Colchester's colourful past – Jumbo, Severalls,
Tymperleys, St Helena, Honest John the Oyster Man. Our curiosity is permanently piqued – did Connie King, Music Hall artiste, really exist, really lie undiscovered under her bed for ten years after her lonely death ? Whose are all these fine revolutionary sentiments ? Who wrote “Faith is the sense of the heart as sight is the sense of the eye.” ?

Gari Jones is both author and director of Depot. The vision was memorable. The dialogue was variously wordy and clichéd, though, and despite sound reinforcement not always clear. The staging was frequently striking – design by Sara Perks – the bed in the Great East Coast Flood, the invasions of the major spaces, the line of phones, the treatment rooms in the asylum, the climax in the workhouse refectory. Only the hospital ward seemed awkward, hard to see and hear.

As we trooped out into the yard, we felt we knew the building better – offices,
passageways, inspection pit [cleverly used for the “excavation”], tramlines in the floor. And we knew Colchester better too, and thanks to the little booklet we were given as we left, we were able to answer some of those nagging questions too.
But we didn't entirely shed our uneasiness with our inmate garb …

main photograph by Mike Kwasniak ©2009

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