first night


Dave Spencer sits down to dinner with the world's first family.

From the outset of 3dTC’s production of Byron’s answer to Paradise Lost, Cain, there were some interesting and well thought-out directorial ideas coming through in the set and the choice of venue. If a little obvious, St John’s Chapel was the perfect location for this stripped back adaptation, and the choice to update the play by grounding it in an entirely modern but indeterminate era was striking. 

The modern setting yielded a small tangle of props that stood on the shoulders of what should be called a ‘Good Concept’, notably a bundle of fabric represented the child of Cain (Izzy Osborne) and Adah (Imogen Eddleston), which finding its place on top of the altar, made a clever comment on the theme of innocent sacrifice within the play. Clear colour symbolism in the party dresses that the characters wore, each with a black sash that denoted the universal taint of original sin, was also a good choice.

John Muething, the director, has ingeniously created a familial-celebratory-meal setting that could have been (relevantly) Christmas, or potentially Thanksgiving, or just a Sunday roast, emphasising the themes of fratricide and betrayal. This notion – my favourite in the production – was achieved using two chopping boards, a lump of beef, which realistically should have been lamb, a bowl of half peeled potatoes, and that was about it – very simple and elegant. Blocking on the whole was good for a traverse stage; there were some uncomfortable moments, but these were often short enough not to matter.  But I’m afraid that this is where Cain ceased to be a good production.

The absence of tech was particularly startling, so much so that the end of the play was marked not by a clear change in lighting but by the actors standing up and looking sheepishly at the audience. The stripped back quality of the production made excuses for this absence but I would say that a simple flick of the lights on and off would have made a world of difference. Either that, or the characters should have been present on stage from the start and then subsequently departed as their characters, immersing us further into the unnerving claustrophobia of the world’s first family.

There were quite a few first night teething problems, some lines were lost, but I have confidence that these will have been rectified by the second set of performances. There was nothing interesting to remark regarding the actors’ physicality, which on the whole, was fairly poor. It was, in fact, almost exclusively awkward. Byron’s text was also sometimes skirted over as if the actors did not really have a grasp of what they were saying and were attempting to hurry along to the next bit that they really enjoyed.

Satan (ably played – excuse the pun – by Olivia Bowsher) suddenly and inexplicably became Abel later on in the play. This would have been a wise directorial choice, if it had been followed through using even the smallest change in the acting of both of the characters. It could have been that Satan possessed Abel’s body, in order to entice Cain to murder him, but this was not clear. A simple revelation of Satan’s quiet mania could have been shown to communicate this, but no hint of this was given. Izzy Osborne played Cain with fair success – it did indeed feel like she meant the lines she was saying – but I could not help feeling that she was miscast in the role of Cain. In fact, it was not obvious why all of the characters were played by women. If it was a specific directorial choice – perhaps a script alteration would have made this clear – it did not come through. Imogen Eddleston (who played Adah) was the weakest of the ensemble and, in such a small production, it was particularly noticeable.

On the whole, I would not jump at the chance to see this specific piece again, but look forward to more of Muething’s work in the future. 


Dave Spencer



12 December 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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