Culture, Manchester, Review

Saying a Lot With a Little: Children of Cain at The King’s Arms, Salford

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By Benjamin Francis Cassidy
Image: JNevinsDesigns

The small room above the Kings Arms pub in Salford might at first appear to be cramped, basic and lacking glamour; however, it is these factors that make it such a great venue. It’s atmospheric, with just enough suggestion of the claustrophobic about it to fully immerse you in the action. It turns out that for the themes and setting of Children of Cain the cramped feeling soon turns into a part of the atmosphere.

Children of Cain is written by American playwright, Ron Burch and produced and choreographed by Postcard Theatre, a growing Theatre Production Company led by Chief Director John Mark Reid, who enjoyed success with a tour of their first production, in 2014. The premise of the play is a near Dystopic future, where a mysterious illness called ‘The Strain’, has begun sweeping over the Earth and wiping out its population. This has resulted in a curfew, and those who have survived remaining house-bound under another threat, every bit as deadly as ‘The Strain’: The Miltary Police Units, or MPU, who seem to act as a police service, army, and judge, jury and executioner, as well as being an embodiment of a ‘Police State’.

Due to their reign of oppression, Blake and Ryder, two survivors of the disease, are holed up in Ryder’s house, which sets the scene brilliantly, allowing for all the action to feasibly take place in one setting, an idea, that is as simple as it is powerful. This aspect was reminiscent of Samuel Becket’s Endgame, which also used this convention to create the tension needed between two people who spend far too much time together, and have a complex and multi-faceted relationship, that is dysfunctional as it is close. Blake and Ryder depict this wonderfully and with zeal and grittiness.

The first scene sees Blake and Ryder sitting at a table with an egg timer and a small electric fan; it’s Blake’s turn to use the fan, and he is lording it over an increasingly impatient Ryder, letting the audience know their agreement. Blake thinks of himself as superior, both in an ability to lead and decide what is best to stay alive, and promoting himself as the alpha male of the two, appointing himself ‘Top Dog’. Suffice to say that Blake is a very powerful character, and needs an equally powerful actor to show-case his presence. Danny Almond, who plays Blake, manages it with conviction and an assured sense of knowing the character, as well as his motivations, which come clear as the tightly knitted plot plays out . . .

Matthew Fordy plays Ryder, who is every bit the protagonist to Almond’s Blake, though the lines are deliberately blurred at times, as to maintain the development of drama, as we learn more about these two characters, who constantly argue about the best course of action to take, and the possible consequences and dangers. It is Ryder who ultimately assumes command, and makes a pivotal decision which sets up the main storyline of the play, by opening the door of the house, following a plea for help from outside from a young woman that is claiming to have been shot, and in need of refuge and urgent medical treatment. The young woman is Jen, who divides opinion between the two men, and begins to alter the dynamic of the house, in more ways than one.

Keri Bastiman plays Jen, and, with such huge talents to compete with, still manages to stand out, and stamp her authority on the character, and the play. She manages to act as a catalyst for the plot, whilst at the same time being much more, crucially gripping the audience, by displaying human fragility and inner-conflict brilliantly, making sure that all watching care deeply for her character and the situations in which she finds herself.

With minimum space, sets and effects, Postcard Theatre Group manage to create a truly memorable immersive experience in Children of Cain, through combining innovative story-telling, concise direction and superb, impassioned acting, that explores themes of friendship, trust and survival in a world that seems to be making these elements of life more difficult. What is clear is that this dedicated theatre group are capable of dazzling performances, with great attention to detail, and insight into the human condition, which always makes for great theatre.

Children of Cain runs until tonight, 10th November. For more information, see the King’s Arms website.

About the author / 

Benjamin Francis Cassidy

1 Comment

  1. James Nevins 10th November 2016 at 2:59 pm -  Reply

    Poster Image by: Jnevinsdesigns

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