One can’t help thinking Rainbow Man has opened at fortyfivedownstairs a few weeks too late. As a mood setting Halloween entertainment, this Victorian gothic horror/fantasy would perhaps seem eerily appropriate. Centred upon a gravedigger caring for a pair of half-buried charges and a doll-like widow puppeteering her wooden son, the premise is perfectly creepy. Combined with an exquisite set design, delightful costumes and wonderfully atmospheric lighting, this production is well placed for a hauntingly good time. However, without the context of All Hallows’ Eve, a far greater focus lies on the content within this quirky reverie, and it highlights the fact that this story has very little to say.
Subtitled ‘A Tale of Many Tales’, playwright Peter Dawncy uses the predicament of his literally central characters, Garm (Cait Spiker) and Derb (Ben Walter), to provide cause for need of storytelling. Two fools half ‘growed-up’ out of the earth of their mother’s grave with no hope of escape, must fin ways to pass their eternal time, which requires Bibsy (James Cerche) the gravedigger to entertain and hopefully return them to their undead slumber, when they aren’t fighting with each other or fondling after him. An actor at heart, Bibsy is full of dramatic stories that often begin with beguiling premises, likewise the ghoulish pair are very capable of conjuring bizarrely intriguing tales, but most all of them are half formed (if that) absurdist musings that trickle away into nothingness before reaching any form of satisfying conclusion. It’s a wonder that the yarns do nothing to help Garm and Derb return to sleep, because they certainly have a sedative effect on the viewer.
This production offers so much promise. The hilly cemetery that fills the stage is a wondrous conception that continually reveals delicious new intricacies, such as a macabre marionette theatre and a coffin-cum-actor’s dressing room. Character designs are an enchanting mix of Beetlejuice meets Dark Shadows. Composer and ghostly accompanist Owen James’ music is perfectly eerie. Yet all these wonderful elements seem to have been built around an empty script that during the course of the 1 hour and 45 minute playing time continually teases that some kind of point is in the offing, while ultimately failing to deliver. These are stagnant characters both in fact and in deed.
Director Dann Barber, also the set designer and producer, seems to have been entranced by Dawncy’s material, allowing the performances to flow lightly and without a lot of structure. Cerche’s Bibsy could be the leading man, but due to the ephemeral nature of the script, he floats limply around the set. Spiker and Walter are more effective in commanding the stage, delivering enchantingly morbid characterisations, but they are often lumbered with such verbose nonsense to spout, it’s a wonder they were able to decipher anything from the story. Alex Aldrich is held mostly at bay until the last third of the play before appearing as a creepily ethereal mother with her nightmarish puppet child. It’s a performance that’s suitably mysterious and disturbing, but comes at a point when the story has almost entirely worn out its welcome.
Rainbow Man is a tour de force of design, signalling promise for the future of production company Goodnight Darlings, as long as they carefully select the material they choose to produce in the future.