Having a ‘unique brand’ of performance is a claim often made by fringe theatre and comedy groups, but Haste Theatre is truly deserving of this accolade. Blending black comedy, movement, music and atmospheric storytelling, Beyond Cragporth Rock is the surreal tale of six sisters hiding from the outside world by barricading themselves in a cottage on an eroding cliff.
From the outset, it is clear that their story will not end well. The piece opens with a striking tableau of the sisters, all dead—one is face down in a bucket of water, while another hangs by her neck from a wooden clothes airer. Slowly, they come back to life and approach the audience, promising to recount what has led to this scene.
Visually and physically, this production is highly impressive. The cottage set looks like it has been harbouring six women for ten years, with its shabby cupboards, wobbly table and the amusingly mismatched collection of crockery and cutlery that is brought out at meal times. Physical theatre is clearly one of Haste’s strengths—the cooking sequence, which sees the cast throwing silver balls to each other in perfect unison, is a particular highlight. For the dramatic climax of the piece, in which the house does finally fall off the edge of the cliff, the sisters slide across the stage in slow motion, pulling pieces of the set with them. The cast get to display their talents further by stamping out energetic passages of rhythm and singing in poignant, beautiful harmonies.
The story of six women living in fear of the outside world, losing their minds and starving to death has the potential to be bleak and depressing. Fortunately, comedy plays a prominent part in Beyond Cragporth Rock—characters frequently utter tongue-in-cheek asides to the audience about the play’s more surreal moments, proving that Haste doesn’t take itself too seriously. One sister in particular fulfils the role of comic relief with her sarcastic comments, introducing herself to the audience as Oscar with an eye-rolling acknowledgement that she knows it’s a boy’s name.
Although we primarily see the cast working as an ensemble, the sisters are established as individuals with their own identities. Belinda leads the group from her rocking chair, hands folded with self-importance. Edith, ‘the mad one’, guards the cottage door while sharpening weapons. These identities dictate their relationships with each other and foreshadow the way in which each sisteris murdered—Verity, who is in charge of domestic affairs, is stabbed with her own knitting needle.
Unfortunately, in an abundance of choreographed movement and amusing surrealism, the plot of Beyond Cragporth Rock suffers. A string of monologues promise to develop the characters and provide context flags when focus returns to the sisters who have already spoken, even though they have nothing new to say. There is a general lack of exposition about the allegedly terrible outside world, beyond mentions of ‘gangs’ and a ‘financial crisis’.
The final scene, in which Cragporth Rock collapses, culminates in the sisters seemingly dying a second time by drowning. Although this device allows the women to finally free themselves from both life and the cottage, the phase of underwater movement runs on too long. In spite of a tendency to focus on style at the expense of narrative substance, Haste Theatre succeeds in creating an intriguing, energetic and versatile piece that showcases its talents and stands out from the crowd.