Sometimes, what we need most from theatre is escape. Escape and entertainment. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t demand theatre that challenges us and makes us reevaluate our own outlooks on the world, and indeed, many a thought provoking piece can be in equal parts joyous and amusing as they are self analysing and provocative. Even within the realms of high fantasy and adventure, genres which are often perceived as frivolous and more action driven as opposed to thought driven, there still remains the latent politics that pervades all narratives. In these imaginary worlds where the lore and history is created and faceted by human imagination, what its creator chooses to include or exclude within these conjured realms speaks to the ideologies of that creator. For me, fantasy and science-fiction have been aspirational genres, as much about holding up a mirror to our own world as it is about pondering over the what ifs of our history if it had taken an alternative route. This, in itself, is a form of a escapism, to retire from ones every day concerns about the state of geopolitics or the climate crisis and to immerse oneself in an alternate reality where the divisions between good and evil are not quite so murky. With Black Dog Production’s new show, The Curse of the Sapphire Blade, this much needed escapism in these still uncertain times is wonderfully realised.
Directed by Lex Kaby and written by Russell Eccleston, The Curse of the Sapphire Blade transports us to a magical realm of pixies, monster hunters and terrifying beasts. As the sweet, though rather hapless bounty hunter, Rivac (Russell Eccleston), stumbles across a mysterious man (Patrick Withey) in a forest clearing, we are propelled on a journey of discovery and swashbuckling adventure. Along the way we meet the brash warrior, Johanna (Alicia Pollard), the forgetful but fiery pixie, Isadora (Tiffany Rhodes), and the stoic mercenary, Nox (CJ Turner-McMullan), and what begins as a quest to defeat a monstrous sphinx turns into a quest of self realisation and the forging of the unbreakable bonds of friendship.
It isn’t often one comes across theatrical fantasy dramas. Usually, the genre of fantasy is reserved for the seasonal productions of pantomimes, but Black Dog Productions take the trappings of high fantasy and propels them to brilliant theatrical heights. The set is truly magical, with its central tree constructed of ropes, cloth and leaves bringing a rustic, almost Kneehigh flavour to the stage, and Esther Warren’s lighting design completes the mystical atmosphere of the play’s world. Within this sumptuous backdrop, the ensemble cast thrives, and the distinctively different, larger than life characters are given the grounding and brevity needed to avoid falling into ludicrous melodrama. Patrick Withey steals the show with his crackpot old-but-young Archelon who feels like a cross between Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Indeed, the utter conviction and focus with which each character is portrayed is what drives the heart of this piece; the cast’s incredible talent is utilised with expert skill, bringing every facet of their characters to life. Of course, being a Black Dog Production, one should always expect beautifully choreographed fight sequences, and The Curse of the Sapphire Blade does not disappoint, with its myriad of different weaponry and fighting styles – this is a drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
As COVID reentry debut shows go, Black Dog Productions have truly outdone themselves. With this brilliant, heady mix of comedy, action and stellar performances, this is the perfect show with which to shrug off the stresses of our pandemic world, and immerse yourself in a piece of joyous escapism.