Pros: Very well-performed with some inventive directorial choices and moments of comedy
Cons: The plot did not develop much, making for a frustrating experience.
Ham is Noah’s youngest son, and biggest disappointment. In this one-man show, we are brought onto his ark that he built for the next flood. As the audience enters the theatre, Ham (James Askill), dressed in bright yellow waterproofs, is rushing around with cardboard boxes of provisions. The play starts, but the house lights stay on. The audience is very much part of this production, immediately made clear with direct address. Askill has a very watchable intensity, but this character is clearly an outcast and uncomfortable around other people. In turn, combined with the interactive and improvised elements, this made me feel embarrassed for Ham.
Much of the beginning of Ham involved organising- the audience, rules, timings and the awkward insistence that we have fun. We are also counted and with a mostly female audience, this is declared as not ideal, but workable in terms of re-populating the earth. Other than this factor, I am unsure why we were brought onto the ark. Ham regularly updates us as to how much time we have left before the rain starts, which it does on cue. We are then introduced to his family via carefully folded up illustrations that Ham sticks on the back wall. This sequence took up too much time and the rest of the play was heavily peppered with pregnant pauses. This was either a directorial or writing choice, but after I realised this was a regular feature in the style of the play, I found it frustrating. The plot was also very slow to develop, which added to the desire for the production to “just get on with it, already.” I was waiting for something big to happen to get the action going.
Unfortunately, it never did. The rain came, Ham tried to engage us in various activities, he told us why there weren’t any animals this time, the power went off, he ran around with a torch and made shadow puppets before the rain stopped and power was restored. A single MAG light lit the space during this time, which I felt did not contribute to the play’s theme. He often spoke of the need to start over and we learned that he no longer sees his family. I interpreted that he had been biding his time ever since, waiting for another flood so he can build another boat and start over again, but this was never directly communicated. There seemed to be a need for acceptance and I wondered if we were meant to feel trapped or forced onto the ark. Much of the writing was vague. There was some subtext, but the overriding mood was one of awkwardness with touches of absurdity. Near the end, Ham has some sort of melt down where he tears up the pictures of his family and frantically runs around the room, but there was no sense of catharsis. The whole sequence, rather than purging demons and starting anew, felt pointless and limp. The play ended when Ham ran out.
The immersive elements of the play were excellent: engaging the audience in activities and games, speaking to us individually, and taking our photo generated a real feeling of intimacy. Askill’s energy and commitment to the role was unwavering, but I wanted the writing to carry him on a journey of rebirth that we shared with him. Instead, he never progressed as a character and the play ended on a loose end. Hopefully, writer Nathan Wood will develop this piece to really showcase the transformation of Ham. As it stands, despite some good potential, this production felt incomplete.
Author: Nathan Wood
Director: Olivia Knight
Lighting and Sound: Simon Gethin Thomas
Assistant Director: Louise Dickinson
Producer: Mouths of Lions
Booking Until: 15 February 2014
Box Office: 020 7515 7799
Booking Link: www.space.org.uk