Last night I went to see Ernest and the Pale Moon by Les Enfants Terribles & Pins and Needles Productions, at the Carriageworks in Leeds. Being a massive fan of both Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock, and having heard a lot of praise for LET, I was excited.
It’s definitely worth catching. It had all the makings of stage craft at its best: a capella and exposed, hand-made soundscapes, resourceful use of set, props, bodies and voices, and a multi-skilled (multi-instrumental) ensemble cast. The aesthetic and sound design were particularly clever and effective. The cast play cello, harpsichord and xylophones, and create other sound effects in between and during stints of heightened character acting.
Ernest (Anthony Spargo) was outstanding; a captivating, disciplined performer with impeccable ensemble manner – checking in via eye contact with his fellow cast before embarking on synchronised sequences, helping bodies in the dark rise from the dead to continue with their next task, and attacking a plethora of folio tools as a backdrop for another’s monologue with the same commitment applied to his own speeches.
Sadly Spargo rather shone above the rest, who, though hardworking, didn’t quite get the chance to impress us in the same way. Perhaps a flaw in the script rather than flatness on their parts – they were clearly talented. The surreal, at-times-Berkoff-esque style chosen to tell their tale takes 100% commitment and gusto to pull off, and sadly this was only emanating from Ernest. Again, perhaps the only character with room for this to really soar, but the others were slightly flat and awkward in proximity to it.
The revisiting of scenes from different perspectives was exciting and satisfying – one chance we got to watch Spargo perform choreographed sequences repeatedly, with precision. The story was carefully unravelled, building bit by bit, preparing us perfectly for the unveiling of new scenes, including a truly chilling climax that did allow performer Rachel Dawson a moment in which she made your stomach heave with Ernest’s sickening, panicked guilt.
It seemed, given the effective use of repetition in the rest of the show, that they’d had to make compromises for one performer who wasn’t quite up to scratch, which was a real shame. Maybe they joined rehearsals late? Maybe they just weren’t as convincing in carrying out what was actually meant to happen? I was inclined to see a comparative lack of professionalism, given a couple of mis-matches with the fellow cast, and even some real character-breaking flicking of hair out of eyes, during an isolated clockwork-people sequence.
These were tiny things really, but they show up like sore thumbs on stage, especially next to the other talent. I never felt quite safe in their hands, like one should when watching a show – this was a different feeling to the chills and thrills we obviously should have been experiencing – the problem was that I couldn’t quite forget where I was and just enjoy the experience. Perhaps a problem with timing, too many slightly awkward pauses despite a habit of “quick, shout, pronounce!”-style narration, which forms a big part of my love-hate relationship with traditional theatre.
That being said, it was reassuring as a theatre-maker to know that even the most renowned companies don’t always quite hit the high notes, and there was more than enough there to make me want to follow Les Enfants Terribles and come back to see what inventive, imaginative visual feast they come up with next.
Also, the audience was pretty shockingly sparse, and that can really kill a performance that would otherwise be electrifying. An underestimated percentage of the success of a live performance lies in the buzz of a full room, and I do feel that we weren’t really doing our fair share.
For more information and a show trailer, visit the company’s website: