Manchester Theatre Awards

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Slime after Slime

Despite its title, A Thousand Slimy Things is a hugely entertaining and inventive piece during which actors Gary Lagden and Darren Lawrence, plus musician Christopher Preece and a few bits of mobile furniture, miraculously transform the almost bare space of the Exchange Studio into a wedding feast, the sea, an icy waste and all manner of strange and fearful places.

At the performance I saw, an audience of brave souls, most of them not much over nine years old, were utterly transfixed, not least when Death and Death-In-Life were throwing dice for their souls.

Let's face it, that's not something you're going to see at your average jukebox musical or panto, is it? In fact, rather like animated films, it does sometimes seem like the most interesting and psychologically daring productions I see these days are those apparently aimed at a youthful audience, rather than those perversely infantilising 'adult' productions.

Director and composer Lewis Gibson, who also worked on Tasty Tales, Hood In The Wood and Tin Soldier, obviously took seriously the challenge of making sure the dazzling richness of Coleridge's poem was kept, at least as far as possible. 

"As a poem it's beautiful and epic, it takes you to places which are psychological states, I suppose," he agrees. "It plays with time and it's not a linear story. 

"Actually the plot, which you could sum up as 'guy goes off, kills a bird and then bad stuff happens' is quite near the beginning, which people tend to forget. Then there's an enormous amount of stuff - Coleridge's Christian-based and, I imagine, drug-induced experiences - which gets a bit Lord Of The Rings or Harry Potter-like, in that everything seems like it's OK and then things happen again. So we've simplified it a bit and taken some things out. 

"For us, the piece that Coleridge wrote was a bit 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' - you should love animals and birds and then everything will be all right! But, for us at least, that moral is a little peculiar and we need a reason for the mariner to have to tell his story. 

"Some contemporary versions of The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner almost turn it into an environmental story.  But what it's about, so far as we're concerned, is that we all do things we regret, thoughtless or stupid acts for which we then have guilt and shame. If we don't accept that and come to terms with it, then it will weigh us down, like the bird in the poem. Even nine-year-olds understand that, if you do something like bullying someone in the playground or doing something violent, then that act can shape you, can tarnish you, throughout the rest of their career and lives. One action can change how people think about you and how you think about yourself.

"You have to realise what you've done, come to terms with it and then move on with your life. One act doesn't represent you, it's just an aspect of something you did.

"We're using the language of Coleridge, but it doesn't sound archaic or off-putting. Both Gary and Darren are great actors: they can hit the rhythm if you want, but can also completely pull it apart, like with Shakespeare, and make it sound conversational or whatever. We have music going on, so there are rhythms and the actors don't need to stress that. So all the internal rhymes in Coleridge become like little flashbulbs going off in your head, as opposed to this driving rhythm. I think that's quite beautiful."

*A Thousand Slimy Things is at the Royal Exchange Studio until June 23.

Kevin Bourke

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Comment by Robert Beale