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Clockwork Canaries review at Theatre Royal, Plymouth – ‘weird, wild and baffling’

Charlie Cameron and Dominic Marsh in Clockwork Canaries at Theatre Royal Plymouth. Photo: Steve Tanner Charlie Cameron and Dominic Marsh in Clockwork Canaries at Theatre Royal Plymouth. Photo: Steve Tanner
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Christopher William Hill’s comedy Clockwork Canaries is weird. And not in a good way. In a disconcerting and dispiriting way.

In the slow-burning first half, wild-eyed, crazy-haired inventor Maximilian and his death-obsessed daughter Tatiana welcome a mangy, menacing black cat into their home, only for it to start massacring the beloved pet birds of the famous opera singer next door.

The second half descends into a farce that’s not particularly farcical. There are bizarre romantic entanglements – between Max and the opera singer, between Max and the opera singer’s solicitor, between Tatiana and a bellboy-spy character. The cat, meanwhile, has developed a taste for people.

There’s a degree of strange, sadistic humour to Hill’s writing, but little to stave off bafflement beyond that. Clockwork Canaries is like a fudging together of Hans Christian Andersen and Wes Anderson, written by someone with a taste for torture porn. A gothic horror film (for kids) crossed with a Coen Brothers movie. But its increasingly wild, increasingly random plot tangents make absolutely zero sense.

Still, Luke Kernaghan directs it all with frantic flair on Natasha Jenkins’ neatly detailed set, and Michael Fowkes’ sophisticated puppets are handled dextrously by Richard Booth.

Christopher Staines supplies an entertaining stream of caricatures, Charlie Cameron is garishly girlish as Tatiana, and Dominic Marsh is a convincing mad professor type.

The trouble is, none of them seem to know what the play is supposed to be or do. By the end, neither does the audience.

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A dispiritingly haphazard comedy combining fairytale horror and farce