Boy in Darkness
Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy has been described as a fantasy of manners. It depicts a world governed by an absurd yet ironically familiar internal logic akin to Candide’s or Gulliver’s, where barons and earls and heirs quarrel and sulk interminably over nothing.
Boy in Darkness is a short story based in the same world but written separately from the iconic trilogy as an off-beat supplement. Since the author’s premature death in 1968 it largely remained out-of-print until it was re-released in 2007 as part of a motley Mervyn Peake compendium and follows the down-the-rabbit-hole adventure of Titus Groan, the 77th Earl of Gormenghast, as he escapes the banal safety of his castle on his 14th birthday.
Curious Directive’s adaptation has the qualities of a purring cat. It’s a hypnotically serene and enchantingly peculiar cross-breed of physical theatre and puppet show which brings to mind children’s fantasy fiction. In this capacity it’s perhaps a little misplaced in its late evening timeslot, but its softness is endearing, comforting even, and walking out at the end feels a bit like leaving a hot bath after exercise.
At a glance the performers come across as young and inexperienced, but on closer inspection their movements are elegantly economical, accurately animalistic when they need to be, and the lines they speak don’t feel overeducated like they so often do in the hands of drama students. Yann Allsopp is unassumingly good in the lead role, with Fiona Mikel bringing tons of charm to the more demanding part she plays.