The Crystal Egg reviewed by David James
For quite a while now, the go-to buzzword in contemporary theatre has been "immersive" - not content with simply observing a show, audiences now demand to interact with it. And so The Crystal Egg bills itself as an "immersive, multi-media experience" rather than a 'play', promising that you will "uncover the secret for yourself". Now, I'm not criticising the quality of the show as a whole, but the above spiel is, quite simply, bollocks.
What The Crystal Egg actually consists of is an entirely traditional play in which the audience takes their seats, shuts up and watches a story performed on a stage for just over an hour. Any pretensions to immersion come with a brief prologue in which we awkwardly wait around in a plywood recreation of Victorian London while actors do their best to interact with us. It's less immersion and more a drizzle. (Incidentally, I genuinely can't figure out what the multi-media elements were supposed to be.)
This marketing over-reach is a shame, because as a straight play The Crystal Egg isn't half bad. Adapted from H.G. Wells' 1897 short story of the same name, this is a story of the titular, mysterious crystal egg - which drives all who possess it to madness and death.
We open with Charley Wace (Desmond Carny) frantically searching for the missing egg on the streets of London, only to happen across H.G. Wells himself (Edwin Flay). Perhaps only to humour him, Wells sits down and listens to Charley's story. We flashback a couple of years to the newly orphaned Charley being taken in by his uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Cave (Mark Parsons and Jessica Boyde), who inhabit a curiosity shop in the Seven Dials.
Among the meagre possessions inherited young Charley is the crystal egg, which his downtrodden adoptive parents immediately make plans to sell. But all too soon the egg begins working a peculiar spell on Mr Cave, beginning his transformation from kindly and paternal shopkeeper to an obsessed, paranoid and violent madman.
The lion's share of the show's quality comes down to Mark Parsons excellent performance as Mr Cave. He completely sells that this egg is weaving a diabolical spell over him and his breathless descriptions of what he sees inside are perfectly eerie. It's in Parson's Mr Cave that the horror elements of the show blossom - a character sliding inexorably down beyond the moral event horizon as his confused and scared family look on.
Most of the rest of the cast orbits Parsons, and while some characters are a bit under-developed (Carolina Main's withdrawn daughter doesn't really go anywhere) their reactions to him all keep things humming along.
The only real misstep comes with casting Desmond Carney - a tall, well-built, heavily bearded man in his thirties - as a waifish Victorian child orphan. It's a real headscratcher of a casting decision as while there's nothing particularly wrong with Carney's performance, I can't for the life of me see why you'd choose this guy for this role.
That aside, The Crystal Egg eventually turns out to be a modest bit of theatre that would be best served by shearing away all the pointless 'immersive' frippery that surrounds it. My advice would be to dial down your expectations a bit and maybe show up 15 minutes past the start time so you can skip the unnecessary introductory bits.
The Crystal Egg is at The Vaults 7th- 13th January 2018 4.00pm & 7.30pm daily. Details here.