There’s an eerily sing-song tenor to writer and poet Anna Beecher’s modern-day retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear, and to Daniel Holme’s solo performance. The setting gestures at today, with its mucky, rundown pubs and deserted shopping centres, but it’s suffused with the dark timelessness of fairy tales.
Nick lives in a no-hope seaside town, where kids tell ghost stories under the pier and grope each other. But Nick is a misfit, a boy who cannot feel fear. After a prank goes wrong, he leaves for the city, where the green-gloved, gold-toothed Mr Bacon promises to help him find his shudder.
Beecher twists the grubby everyday into the uncanny, conjuring up an underground world of awful things half-glimpsed and rarely understood by Nick, as he’s given tasks by Mr Bacon’s associates and meets those who haunt the nighttime in the overgrown Castle shopping centre. There’s a constant sense of dread in the city’s echo-y bleakness.
Holme is an off-kilter presence as Nick, a combination of easy, slack smile and unblinking stare. While he’s an innocent in a dark world, he also has an unsettling quality—an almost submarine disconnect from events—that prickles the hairs as he ranges around the flickery, neon-lit bareness of director Rachel Lincoln’s stripped-back production.
This show doesn’t quite succeed in translating its atmosphere of stalking dreaminess into an effective ending, but Beecher’s prose and Holme’s performance make for a potent, teeth-on-edge pairing in a shivery hour of theatre.