BWW Review: THE CRYSTAL EGG LIVE, The Vaults
What would you do if someone or something was watching you? Adapted from the H.G. Well's short story, The Crystal Egg Live tells the story of Charley Wace, taken in by his eccentric Uncle Cave after his father disappears. When his father's body is discovered, Charley inherits the only item found with the body-a crystal egg. Uncle Cave owns a curiosity shop in London's Seven Dials and intends to sell the egg to improve life for his family, but sinister events connected to the egg threaten to plunge the whole world into great danger.
120 years after the publication of H. G. Wells' science fiction short story, the audience enters the atmospheric venue of The Vaults to a tiny (and rather flimsy) version of Victorian Seven Dials, complete with pub, weaver and antiques shops. A musician plays a jaunty jig on the violin, a monotone policeman wanders around and a fortune teller plies her trade. The actors are excellent here at maintaining character, with Luisa Guerreiro particularly good as a cheeky cockney lass.
It is here we see Charley Wace approaching H. G. Wells himself, to help him find the crystal egg as a matter of great importance. As Charley begins to tell his tale, he leads the audience to another performance space inside the impressively disheveled antiques shop itself. It is here the production unfolds as Charley recalls his story to Wells. The space looks suitably disorganised, with many interesting pieces to observe.
The cast needs a little more rehearsal time, as several lines are stumbled over. Mark Parsons is very natural as Charley's Uncle Cave. Affable and kind, yet tending towards darkness as the influence of the egg takes hold of him, there is distinct light and shade to his performance. Des Carney plays a nervy Charley Wace, who is referred to a 'Master Wace' and 'boy', yet somewhat strangely, sports a heavy beard and looks older than his own uncle.
Carolina Main is hauntingly fragile, but underused, as Cave's mentally delicate daughter Anna-Jacoby. Edwin Flay makes a credible H. G. Wells, sensitive and keen to listen, but becomes too emotional at Charley's tale at the end.
Billed as a multi-media, multi-sensory and immersive experience, the production is less impressive than it sounds. The immersive element is limited to the 15 minutes in the small area of Seven Dials, where the audience can wander around and interact with members of the cast. There are nice details of period posters and a few items of interest in the windows, but overall there is not a huge amount to see or explore. The lighting special effects are restricted to a small amount of projection on a back curtain and within the frame of a painting, with the egg itself glowing like a pretty bedside lamp.
However, the essential problem is that this is a short story that does not lend itself to a theatrical adaptation. Despite Mike Archer's version adding and removing characters to aid the narrative, the production fails to go anywhere. There are some nice visual elements and the period detail is strong, but it feels as though there is a slow build up to very little and there is such a lack of conclusion that it is unclear when the show actually ends.
Die-hard fans of Wells will love this production of one of his more obscure stories, but the rest of us will leave a little baffled.
Photo Credit: Miryana Ivanova