Grey Man is a story about stories. It explores how we tell them and why, and the significance they take on, as our perspective changes. This experimental new play from Lulu Raczka is on at Theatre503, where the tiny space becomes ever more claustrophobic as the power of the stories takes hold. Raczka’s 30-minute monologue is delivered twice by two different actors, one after the other.
Maya, 50, (Kristin Hutchinson) returns to the crumbling shell of the flat where she grew up, reliving the past through the stories her little sister used to tell through the wall. Maya, 25 (Jasmine Blackborow) returns to the freshly plastered flat where she grew up, reliving the past through the stories her little sister used to tell through the wall.
As Maya’s memories blur, the imagined nightmares of her childhood taint every event. She channels her fear into trivial things – it’s easy to be momentarily scared of a silly story before laughing off your terror in the sudden bright light.
Hutchinson’s monologue is dark. Her eyes stare, the stories are sinister and creepy and a chill settles over the audience. The sound and lighting design reflect the tone of her performance; bare lightbulbs flicker and throw long shadows on the bare bricks as the low, threatening soundtrack rumbles in the background.
When Blackborow takes to the stage, she tells us the same stories but in a lighter tone. She is gossiping rather than trying to scare us, relaying her second hand stories as if for approval. The stager is better lit, she uses more props and it feels distinctly less like someone is about to be murdered.
It’s an effective production but one that feels a little contrived. Having two actors perform the same monologue and extract different meaning from it is an interesting experiment, but ultimately one that fails to make its point coherently. The performances are both strong but Robyn Winfield-Smith’s direction could have been bolder in drawing out the contrasts between the two.
Grey Man is, at face value, an entertaining evening of storytelling. However, it clearly has greater potential and higher ambitions, with hidden depths which allude to the spectre of mental illness. If this was better articulated, the play would undoubtedly make a more urgent point.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Nick Rutter