Friday, August 14, 2015
'Marsha: A Girl Who Does Bad Things' at the Arcola Theatre, 13th August 2015
Friday, August 14, 2015 by londoncitynights
It's a bit like having an unpleasant time on psychedelics. A once friendly world curdles into a warped funhouse mirror. The faces of people suddenly look monstrous; stray nose hairs wriggling like angry tentacles; mouthfuls of cracked stinking teeth; and angry pimples gently oozing pus. It's as if the veil has been lifted and you can suddenly perceive the world in all it's rotting grossness. Bile rises in the throat, goosepimples tingle on the back and that hollow feeling grows and grows and grows and grows....
It ain't fun. And neither is Marsha: A Girl Who Does Bad Things. Tilly Gaunt plays Marsha, a Pollyanna-ish young girl who spreads sweetness and light around her rural village. Setting out to do some shopping, she meets kindly shopkeeper Mrs Hoare (Victoria Gray), grumpy farmer Mr MadDonald (Jessica Gillingwater) and protective new mother (Kerri-Lynne Dietz). Then she takes a nice swim to collect her thoughts.
So far, so sweet - this could be the plot of a hundred children's books. But then things get all fucked up. It's like lifting a stone on a sunny day to find pale insects swarming beneath, an injection of blind, painful and decay. There'd been tendrils of darkness from the start; Gaunt's ultra-innocent optimism all but begging to be dragged through the mud. Audience nerves are on edge already - forced into uncomfortable paper masks bearing Marsha's face - we look out to see a creepy sea of identikit grins. Not helping matters is that the dialogue from supporting characters is sung in awkward operettas.
It's all a bit League of Gentlemen. As events spiral downwards towards inky blackness you wonder if there's going to be some point to all this horribleness. Well, (spoilers) there isn't. Now, I've got no problem with cruelty, grossness and twisted morality - but here the mission statement merely seems to have been to be mega disturbing.
The tactic quickly feels a bit try hard; the operatically delivered dialogue drags on, the story unravels into grimdark silliness and the presence of one of those online-famous rubber horse masks makes you feel as if you're stuck inside an internet meme. Though a scanty fifty minutes the show sags in the middle, especially as we realise we're to trawl through at least three largely identical sequences.
Frustratingly there are moments where something special rears its head. Gaunt's monologue about swimming naked in a reservoir and being attacked by hungry sharp-toothed fish is extremely effective, her measured delivery, body language combining with cool lighting to create a suffocatingly nightmarish atmosphere. This is the most successful portion, though there are brief breaks in the mist elsewhere where quality peeks through.
But for the most part, I couldn't shake the idea Marsha is being cryptically weird to camouflage that it doesn't have anything to say. It's an interesting show, and mercifully brief, but not a particularly enjoyable one.
'Marsha: A Girl Who Does Bad Things' is at the Arcola Theatre until 15 August. Tickets here.