The journey into The Vaults is dark, quiet and a little unnerving, the space growing murky with twinkling lights suspended above. Up ahead, a man sits at a desk, his face hidden. Then, crossing beneath a low-slung curtain, we suddenly find ourselves in a bustling courtyard in fin de siècle London. There are crowds chattering, fortunes being told and public speakers condemning their local council. A young man bursts into the crowd, crying imploringly for help in finding a lost item – a large egg made entirely from crystal. Following the man’s tale, we are flung into a story of paranoia, extra-terrestrial invasion and unchecked surveillance. The Crystal Egg Live, the latest production from Old Lamp Entertainment, reshapes H. G. Wells’ original tale for the 21st Century audience, brilliantly tugging at our insecurities and fears and taunting us with the fear of the unknown.
As Charley Wace scrambles about the courtyard, now revealed to be Seven Dials in London’s West End, he happens upon renowned author H. G. Wells. Charley quickly invites him to a derelict shop nearby and tells of how he was abandoned by his father before being taken in by the shop’s kindly owner, Mr Cave. When the body of Charley’s father is found in the Thames, a case of his belongings is brought to him, the most fascinating of which is the crystal egg. Ever grateful to Mr Cave for his hospitality, Charley insists that he sell the egg in the shop, in the hopes of making some money for the family. However, Mr Cave’s admiration for the egg slowly descends into obsession and he forbids anyone from buying it, speaking of the egg’s mystical properties and the ‘angels’ who use the egg to watch our planet.
The Crystal Egg Live is a beautifully devised piece that taps into our ever-growing mistrust of being constantly monitored by the powers that be. The set of the courtyard is very effective (though a little underused!) and utilises the inherently creepy and cavernous setting of The Vaults to transport us back to Victorian London. The majority of the action takes place inside the shop, with the audience sitting among the antiques and trinkets which allows for some comic relief and the production is expertly accompanied by a subtle soundtrack of droning, almost wistful song, cementing the themes of loss and hopelessness and adding an almost cinematic quality to the piece.
The cast works wonderfully, each spurring the story forward with a solemnity and subtlety that maintains the atmosphere of imminent danger. Mark Parsons’ Mr Cave expertly anchors the piece – his gradually developing mania a truly unsettling portrayal of even the kindest of men turned hostile and violent by the threat of the ‘angels’. The earlier scenes in promenade are hugely enjoyable and we feel as though we really are bystanders in Seven Dials. When, in Mr Cave’s shop, the crystal egg glows for the first time, the audience is entranced, leaning forward and craning their necks to get a better glimpse at the enchanting object.
The Crystal Egg Live teeters brilliantly between luring us in to gaze and marvel at the beauty of the egg and warning us of its users’ intentions. With a fantastic mix of sound and lighting effects and engrossing dialogue, this adaptation of H. G. Wells’ original short story is thoroughly enjoyable – a show as captivating and stirring as the egg itself!
Reviewed by Alex Foott