Those with a passing knowledge of the work of poet Murray Lachlan Young – whose best-known odes have such non-family-friendly titles as Simply Everyone’s Taking Cocaine – might be surprised to find him inhabiting the world of children’s theatre.
But then Young’s work has always revelled in the darkly mischievous and macabre, and his fruitily mellifluous voice and eccentric, Tim Burton-like looks make him ideal for kids who like their entertainment served up with a side order of gruesomeness.
This play – a Lemony Snicket-esque tale of a young boy who inherits his family’s ancestral home and then learns about the grisly fates that befell all its previous occupants – is a terrific showcase for the poet’s verbal dexterity and gallows humour. But, performed by Young himself entirely in verse, the action is largely told rather than enacted, belying its origins as a novella-length poem and wearing its influences – principally the cautionary tales of Hoffmann and Hilaire Belloc – rather too liberally.
Nina Hajiyianni’s direction adds much needed theatricality to proceedings, even in this slightly stripped-down version for smaller venues. Adding a second performer also helps with the visual element, but while Simone Lewis is effective as Young’s balefully endearing, mime-like assistant, the fact that Young acts out so many of the characters himself makes her presence mostly surplus to requirements.
But the strength of Young’s gloriously bloodthirsty descriptions and his deliciously devilish use of language – not to mention the archly funny way he deals with the inevitable audience interruptions – means the show is never less than entertaining.