I always feel that putting a novel about a river journey on stage, especially such an ethereal novel as Huckleberry Finn ( Twain said persons attempting to find a plot will be shot) is quite a challenge – what do you leave in? what do you leave out? And how do you give an impression of movement and water on such a fixed medium.
Shapeshifter are an innovative company that like to push the boundaries . This was an ambitious attempt to weave a play from a number of different theatre mediums and most of the time this company pulled it off. The set, a very impressive landing stage, was adapted to become (among other things) a raft, a house and a prison. A movable truck to the side served not only as an instrument/prop repository but became a stage for a lovely pastiche of David Garrick performing a very mixed Shakespeare monologue.
Simple props such as planks and logs were used to create rooms, boats, coffins and floating houses and with the addition of blue grass music performed by the cast the story of the outcast boy and the runaway slave was brought to life in an interesting, expressive way, even if sometimes the pudding was a little over egged.
The plot such as it is follows the journey of Huck and Jim south down the Mississippi as they attempt to change their lives and fortunes. The cast of seven worked hard to create a variety of characters but the central pairing of adaptation, Graeme Dalling as Huck and Joe Speare as Jim was especially strong and held together what was a very eclectic mix of a show. This is essentially a book about racism – and this was sensitively dealt with. Jim was very believable as the trodden down slave with a big heart. Huck was maybe a little too clean, and 21st century to be a Mississippi urchin but was very personable as the boy who just wants to be free.
I missed the wit of Mark Twain which failed to come through this James Graham, but what this play lacked in humour it made up for in innovation. It would certainly make you want to go read the book – and as an introduction to a genius author as well as an interesting evening of original theatre it is well worth a watch.