Paradise in Augustines – The Sanctuary
Peggy is drawing the South Shields coastline. It’s grey: the sea, the sky, her clothes – all a muted, smoky slate, devoid of colour. So Peggy makes her own entertainment. Except her warped idea of fun is to impose her violent fantasies on the children around her. It’s a properly perturbing premise, and Elaine Watt playing Peggy is distinctly disturbing and believable in equal measure, as she invites us into this story of misery and malice.
Whilst the piece has some strong performances, it is largely let down by the script. The story almost entirely lacks tension, as we move linearly from one misdemeanour to the next. There is potential to really dig in to what motivates Peggy to be so evil a child, but this doesn’t move beyond a broad brushstroke portrayal of her sweary mother. I find myself none the wiser as to the motivations of Peggy or her cousin (Kathryn Sergison), who inexplicably moves from innocence to full-blown menace in a heartbeat. This leaves me without empathy for the central narrative as there’s no emotional journey to go on. Later, the story lurches without credibility when Peggy professes that she has now moved on from being evil and has learned to love – this being an entirely left-field development.
There are moments of staging that are inventive. The use of balloons to portray the young children targeted by Peggy works well and is enjoyable. Although their shiny plastic seems out of place with the World War 2 aesthetic of the piece, one can certainly appreciate the colour they bring into Peggy’s life. Beyond this though, staging is largely a paint by numbers affair. In particular, a set of three doors dominate the set throughout the piece, despite infrequent use and no further, symbolic purpose – it felt odd. Other moments seemed underdeveloped: when Peggy’s cousin, Betty, steals the narrative from her the break in form is skipped over – I felt a lost opportunity to really explore the nature of the piece, and of Peggy’s need to be in control of her own story.
An Evil Thing succeeds in some disconcerting moments, with a comprehensively harrowing central performance. Sadly it suffers from a lacklustre script which fails to progress, and a staging lacking in ambition. Set in the pallid grey of the industrial North East, this production fails to bring any colour to the stage.
Written by: Sarah-May Simpson
Directed by: Jenny Race
Produced by: Marian Walker for Progressive Players Gateshead
Evil Thing plays at EdFringe 2022 until 20 August. Further information and bookings here.