There has been a rather quiet but altogether profound revolution happening in Stoke Newington’s Church Street as of late.
On the surface it may pertain to represent a hub of London’s bourgeoisie and charming wholesomeness, but scratch a little deeper and you reveal a blossoming underbelly of artistry that challenges preconceptions and demands an audience of free thinkers and self-analysers.
The centralisation of this revolution is happening in one of the most unseemly of places; the underground basement lair of The White Rabbit, a bespoke cocktail bar nestled between a designer boutique and a record shop, home to the dominating Second Skin Theatre and there inimitable style of genre defying fringe theatre.
Their current offering, a double bill of Pigeon Man Apocalypse and The Horla, is possibly their finest production to date, a statement I have certain reservations in making having witnessed an incredible output from them over the past year. But then again, I am a sucker for a finely crafted horror piece. Give me two, each as pertinent and glorious as the other, and they win. Every time.
The first showing, a loose translation of Guy de Maupassant’s The Horla adapted by Second Skin owner Andy McQuade and directed by Siyu, tempts the audience immediately into the closeted and destructive mind of Isabelle, the performance’s sole protagonist played by Maud Madlyn. Haunted by the betrayal of a former lover her story is a decent into the bitterness and cloying internalisation of a solitary existence whilst her memories and addictions take the shape of the ubiquitous demon Horla.
Utilising language and text resembling those of the 19th century horror forefathers such as M. R. James or H.P. Lovecraft the script takes on a timeless quality as it juxtaposes delicate and flowery descriptions, notable for their prominent role within the former centuries writing style, with mentions of modern e-mail correspondence and recreational drug abuse. This is much to the productions’ merit as it endures the uncomfortable presence lingering throughout the piece, leaving the audience at all times unable to fully comprehend the setting and time of the story and allowing for much interpretation.
Madlyn’s performance is acted with just the right degree of subtlety and dread to retain sympathy without becoming a wallowing pit of self-loathing and pity and thus disengaging herself from the audience. Although the trope of presenting a story in the form of diary excerpts is one oft used in the horror genre to the point of becoming self satirising it is too easy to become lost within Madlyn’s portrayal of Isabelle’s destructive cause and battle against her demon to cause much concern within this piece, and is thankfully used as sparingly as possible.
The second showing, Pigeon man Apocalypse, directed by Andy McQuade disregards the subtlety of the previous piece, but gloriously so. Unlike the pervasive sense of dread accumulated within The Horla, Pigeon Man attacks straight for the jugular from the moment Mark Binet, playing the production’s wretched anti-hero Arthur Cork, bursts onto stage and doesn’t relent until the final moment.
The story is a disturbing portrayal of child abuse, murder and isolation, it pulls no punches and not only keeps you glued to the unremitting action as it happens but leaves you with a form of shellshock that will last long after you’ve left the theatre. It is a piece unlike any other I have seen before, a bizarre concoction of pluckings from stories such as The Wasp
Factory, Psycho, Requiem For a Dream, and even in parts Buffalo 66, whilst being completely detracted and divergent at the same time.
Binet’s performance is mesmerising. His ability to glide effortlessly from downtrodden tramp to bombastic Louisiana style jazz performer to a cowering and whimpering child at the hands of his mother without a single beat or hesitation are to be seen to be believed and a real credit to the production’s visceral story and direction. Suffice to say, after viewing Pigeon Man you will never look at a rambling homeless person the same way again. Second Skin have once again achieved the ability to give story and meaning to those often forgotten and discarded within our greedy and selfish society.
Pigeon Man Apocalypse and The Horla are showing at The White Rabbit until the 14 July. Lovers of the alternative and fringe owe it to themselves to get booking their tickets before this limited run sells out fast. Viva la revolución!
Words by Duncan Stevens.
Images from Second Skin Theatre Facebook page