Using his finely crafted [slider title=”wooden easel”]
[/slider] and ornate toy theatre, Jonathan Storey transports us to the City of the Dead, where the recently deceased Jack Pratchard embarks on an epic spectral journey to save the day.
When Jack Pratchard is killed in his village, he has to travel across the ocean to the City of the Dead where the first person who ever died rules as Queen. She is searching for her husband in every dead soul that enters her grand palace. Meanwhile, on the shores of the living, a curious old man claims to have a secret under his hat. A great theatrical spectacle is underway, and jack Pratchard arrives there just in time to discover why the sea has been filling up with dead souls.
Storey’s narration is imbued with a surrealist sense of humour and delivered with heavy tone of voice; it’s clear that he enjoys his characters while still being able to keep a degree of narrative distance. He weaves in a number of literary references that bring an archaic quality to the construction of the tale, including a nod to the Greek myth of Charon, the boatman who guards the gates of the underworld and the space between the dead and the living; and Jack Pratchard’s reaction to his own death is reminiscent of Gogol’s satirical and fate-bound character Kovalylov in The Nose, both characters stand detached from and in awe of their predicaments.
The finely illustrated backdrops and characters give the piece a timeless, magical atmosphere. Moments of dramatic tension are marked by breaks from the stage frame. The living husband dances around the town square and out into the space of the theatre, laughing and giggling to conceal the secret behind his hat, guided by the narrator’s hands.
Dark magic and comedic allure aside, the narrative thread unravels in places. When images slide in and out of our field of vision, they do so with elegance but not always with intent. The beauty of the illustrations all too often fades into the wooden easel; they are at their most convincing when used outside the boundaries of the stage, not bogged down by technicalities or logistics.
Overall, Jack Pratchard is a brilliant feat of storytelling, with a timeless feel and an imaginative use of theatrical medium. Storey’s dedication to the story is impressive and the show falters only on the few occasions when it breaks with its own logic or over-confines itself to unnecessary boundaries.