Over the last week, local production company Off The Rock Productions performed a new play at Krumbs Kitchen in York called The Damask Room. After having heard great things about some of their previous productions (such as The Five Seasons and An Interview in the Afterlife), we headed down to see their latest production, and were not disappointed.
By Jane Howkins
Photos by Andy Argyle
The Damask Room is a production based around the performance of several short mini plays/sketches, each featured around the theme of a well-known nursery rhyme. Much has been made in the past of the fact that many famous English nursery rhymes have dark histories to them, despite being meant specifically for young children, and this is something that Matthew Wignall of Off The Rock Productions wanted to convey with this production.
The nursery rhymes used within The Damask Roomincluded a mixture of tales that everybody should know, as well as a few more obscure ones such as Lucy Locket. A short rhyme reimagined here to
portray two prostitutes competing with each other over a certain customer. Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that the original rhyme may actually have been about prostitution, so Matthew and his group certainly seem to have done their research on the subject.
There were occasional moments in which the audience found themselves ever so slightly confused about what was happening on stage. However, this only added to the overall mystique of the production, and managed to leave people guessing and talking about the play for a long while afterwards.
One noticeable thing was that throughout each sketch, the actors managed to portray a sense of innate creepiness and horror about the nursery rhymes, tapping into what could be considered to be the true meaning of them. Oranges and Lemons and Limes was a particular favourite, opening the show and drawing the onlookers in suitably with its eerie undertones. This part of the performance was a new riff on the popular nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons, with each of the characters taking the name of one of the bells in the verse, and there was a hint to the bloody history of the rhyme portrayed (it’s supposedly a tale about public execution in London).
Other standout moments included How Jack Fell Down (Jack and Jill but featuring an abusive father and the tumble down the hill being a murder suicide by Jill), The Woman in Shoe (The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoeportrayed as the tragic tale of a downtrodden mother on benefits), Parlour Games (an extremely eerie version of The Spider and the Fly) and The Straight and Narrow (in which Georgie Porgie is a rapist).
Generally, a very interesting production and a must see if it is performed again. Off The Rock Productions have managed to create something that is both funny and creepy, a play that will leave you thinking long into the night about the true meanings of those nursery rhymes.
The Damask Room was performed at Krumbs Kitchen from Monday 1 to Thursday 4 February 2016