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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Life In Monochrome
The Space
19th July 2012


There is an incredibly fine line between pastiche and parody when it comes to noir thrillers. Try to labour the metaphors or pepper the dialogue with too many sub-standard Chandlerisms and the whole thing can fail. The acting also needs to perform this balancing act. Too knowing and it descends into farce, too po-faced doubly so.

No such problems with Blind Tiger's devised piece A Life in Monochrome, with a sharp script that sparkles with inventive wordplay, heightened by some strong acting and live music. It's clear that the company founders - who studied American Theatre at Rose Bruford - know and love the genre and that passion comes across in every single scene.

The plot is a familiar one and cliches are in abundance, but that's certainly no crime. For what is film noir without a hard-boiled gumshoe and a couple of feisty dames? Set in Chicago against the backdrop of the Great Depression, it follows detective Hank Bradshaw (Callum Hughes) investigating the murder of Susan Lyons (Claire Sharpe). Along the way, there are the usual cast of questionable characters ripped straight from the pages of a pulp magazine.

Hughes' grizzled detective is a delight to spend time with and a compelling anchor. Sharpe's seductive jazz singer is magnetic and Stephanie Hampton as headstrong journalist Karen Carter is particularly assured.

The company takes advantage of the generous space, scattering the action throughout the hall, directly drawing the audience into the production. The multi-instrumentalist actors shift on and off stage, playing live to underscore the action. It's a bold move and one that, on the whole, pays off. Removing the fourth wall - and well-considered, professional lighting design - transports the audience so directly into the era, you're practically gagging at the smell of cheap hooch.

In fact, the show's greatest strength lies in these imaginative touches. The murder scene in particular is a standout example of their methods - tense, haunting and incredibly engaging. The times in which the combination of music and performance marry seamlessly is so skilful that it makes you forget the (few) times in which they seem to be at loggerheads. In the whole, it's a breath of fresh air that makes the group particularly exciting.

For a wholly devised debut piece, it's a strong start. It is by no means perfect and the first half is largely stage-setting and exposition that at times gets too bogged down in itself. A trim here and there wouldn't go amiss. But as an evocative, inventive trip on a well-trodden path, it there is no question it soars.

A Life In Monochrome ran from 17th to 28th July 2012 at The Space.

Nearest tube station: Mudchute (DLR)

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