The Marked caught me off guard. I knew it was a puppets show, but it was only until after I saw it that I realised that it had a special message about child abuse and alcoholism. Theatre Témoin has worked together with Everyday Theatre Cheltenham to raise social issues in an inventively raw way. Its masks, designed by Grafted Cede Theatre, may be grotesque, yet their eyes and expressions are completely human.
Set in London’s groggy back streets and alleyways, Jack sleeps rough and sees demons whenever there’s a bottle of alcohol in front of his eyes. Theatre Témoin creates dramatic imagery of Jack’s horrific past through a puppet-made mother with blood flowing through her eyes and long spider-like arms whenever she takes to the drink.
There’s loud noises (you might want to cover your ears), and strobe lights in violent domestic scenes shown through neat and sharp puppetry work. The most unsettling scene is seeing Jack’s mother break a bottle and stab Jack, the little puppet boy, on the neck. Yet there’s a tiny bit of humour with talking Pigeon puppets, some that come in human-size as Jack’s company on the lonely streets.
Not everything seems to make sense in The Marked, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The moral of the story is clear – drink responsibly, especially if you have children, but also remember that children soak things up fast from a very young age, which eventually creeps up with them later on in their adult life.
Director Aillin Conant gives us a lesson worth remembering, and its cast shake and move on the stage with energy and dynamism. Extraordinary performances are worth naming here. Dorie Kinnear plays the pregnant girlfriend who hides away in squatting areas with her abusive boyfriend, played by Tom Stacy. Bradley Thompson is a vital force performing the role of abused victim Jack. His character is much to sympathise with, and he cleverly captures the soul of a boy seeking his mother’s love.
In The Marked, the imagination is there to raise these issues to a broader audience. For topics that can often be difficult to discuss, Theatre Témoin breaks the foil and allows its audiences to have a larger debate about it.