THE MIST BENEATH THE SMOKE/TUPILAQ
Theatre at Baddow Studio, The Reading Rooms, Great Baddow
Mary Redman was at the opening night:
Theatre at Baddow Studio is a series of productions of plays by local writers. In this case John Mabey and Daniel Segeth; both of them acting and directing members of Chelmsford Theatre Workshop.
To paraphrase the football writers, it was a programme of two halves, the subject appropriately enough played out on Hallowe'en, complete with fireworks right outside the windows of the intimate little auditorium.
Admittedly John Mabey in The Mist Beneath The Smoke had a somewhat easier task in that he was adapting a ten-year-old documentary in which people told their own stories. Even so he had created and directed a fascinating collection of stories including some astonishing facts and figures relating to the London Underground after hours.
Carrying over a billion passengers a year, the question is what happens when the commuters are gone, escalators shut off and a few staff patrol the lines and stations, often alone. As Mabey says they are “real life accounts of unexplained phenomena on the world's oldest underground railway.”
Mabey had chosen his cast well starting with Roger Johnson's sonorous voice as the Narrator setting the scene for each actor's account of their character's experience.
So Roger Saddington, Amanda Cox, James Oakley, Jesse Powis, Martin Baker, Bob Ryall, Terry Cole and Michael Gray told their gripping tales of ghostly and ghastly figures often seen in places where gruesome events had taken place in the past. They were joined by Steve Holding-Sutton as a sceptic experiencing something that just could not have happened.
Apart from being gripped by the accounts we learned about the technology of how the Underground with its 408 lifts and escalators keeps going or is shut down for overnight maintenance.
The production was all the better for being straightforwardly told without any great drama or melodrama.
By contrast Daniel Segeth's Tupilaq was overflowing with melodrama: James Christie's novice Arctic explorer faced certain death while writhing around on the floor in pain and remembering past conversations with Leanne Johnson as his wife back home. Basically he was learning in his naivety the sharp contrast between pure science and commercial interests.
With so much of the rather limited action taking place on the floor or sitting down sight lines were badly affected in the auditorium lacking raked seating or a stage.
This was clearly a work in progress as what you have written immediately sounds vastly different when you hear other voices saying your words. To me it felt rather more like a radio play than a work of theatre but we know that Danny has written other plays so a tightened up version of this one may reappear in the future, just like the Inuit's Tupilaq that they don't believe in.
photographs by Pauline Saddington