Duncton Wood at The Union
Duncton Wood is a story of tyranny and religious persecution set in the animal kingdom. Based on William Horwood’s book of the same name, this new musical by Mark Carroll and James Peries takes the audience into the world of the moles of Duncton, where the totalitarian Mandrake (Anthony Cable) is trying and failing to crush a pagan religion, while juggling a simmering conflict with the moles of a nearby pasture.
This high fantasy of talking moles is couched in very human terms by director Michael Strassen. Rather than dress the cast in mole costumes with ears and tails, Strassen presents the actors as tribal members of our own species, which allows the audience to get to the core of the complex and often distressing relationships at the heart of the story.
Carroll’s score is full of lovely earworming tunes, which you’ll go away humming – especially Act One closer After the Rain. Because the space at the Union is so intimate, all the music is performed acoustically and there’s only room for a small band, but this doesn’t seem to hinder the range of the music at all. From really apt earthy sounds to some magical moments in moonlight, the band sound larger than their number. This quality is equalled by the vocals, especially the harmonies, which are levelled well and very satisfying. Tim Deiling’s lighting design really shines, especially in combination with the deceptively complex set. Shining through camo netting and from under the audience’s seats, it brings texture and subtleties to a very close space.
The cast do well to tell the story, which is much darker than might have been expected. Some of the scenes are very challenging, and while the whole ensemble execute their roles admirably, Trevor Jones (playing twin roles Hulver and Boswell) really owns the stage, stepping between comedy and tragedy with all the finesse you would expect from his experience.
Duncton Wood trips along at an incredible pace, and a lot goes on; to get the most out of it, you really have to be prepared to concentrate. The sheer amount of material levied to effectively tell the story certainly has the feel of a fantasy epic, best approached with an open mind.
Duncton Wood is on at The Union Theatre until 20th June 2015, for further information visit here.