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Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Compelling and evocative piece includes shadow puppetry. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Taking its name from its German origin, Erlk├Ânig ("Alder King"), The Erlking is depicted in various forms from poetry (Goethe) to music (Schubert). It is described as “a malevolent creature which haunts forests and carries off travellers to their deaths”. (Wikipedia) Further Wikipedia exploration reveals the interesting information that most of the pilings that form the foundation of Venice were made from alder trees … but I digress.

The smell of alder trees and their foliage forms an important catalyst in The Erl King, a horror story, originally written by John Connolly and adapted for the stage and performed by Marc Kay with technical assistance from Bryan Hiles, who also directed the piece.

We are in England, during the Second World War. The stage setting features three skeletal trees and the puppet booth which the same creative team put to such good use in the hilarious A Guide to the Theatre. However, this time around, it is used in a very different mood and context.

Marc Kay takes on the persona of David – both as an adult and a child. His eloquent opening speech states that this is a “honeycomb world”, full of “deep mines and caves” and that “stability is an illusion, as below the surface there are cracks and fissures.” Devastated by the death of his beloved mother after a long illness, David battles to come to terms with her loss. He tries to imagine her situation in a coffin by wedging himself under his bed, only to become trapped before he can extricate himself. This is a memorable scene that will surely imprint itself on most people’s minds.

He eventually builds a good relationship with his father who constantly reminds him not to talk to strangers, particularly men. However, further emotional turmoil results when his father informs him that he is to marry again. To Rose, a woman who was the administrator in the “Not Quite Hospital”, as David refers to the place where his mother was under care. He blames Rose for not caring enough for his mother and was perhaps responsible by default for her death.

This situation reminds us how important it is to incorporate children gently into a new parental relationship and to make sure they do not feel excluded when there is an offspring from this union.

David loves wandering in the woods – mainly alder trees – and it is here that he comes across The Erl King. In this presentation, the creature has distinctly homosexual tendencies and preys on beautiful young boys. Promising “pleasure and toys until the day you die”, the only way to avoid the creature’s advances is to give it the opportunity to destroy another being.

Apart from being a very compelling and evocative piece with its shadow puppetry, this production has strong educational value on many levels.

The Erl King features impressive creature design by Peter Court and shadow puppets by Bryan Hiles, Clare Mortimer and Marc Kay.

The Erl King runs at the Seabrooke’s Theatre at Durban High School until June 23. Performances nightly at 19h30 (excluding Mondays). Tickets R75 booked through Ailsa on 083 250 2690. – Caroline Smart