Bodies in basements are usually the gruesome subject of horror fiction. Ian McEwan’s 1978 novel features a corpse, although it’s not a source of terror, but a kind of haunting presence that hovers persistently over four lost children.
‘The Cement Garden’ is a tense, difficult story that has been bravely, if a little shakily adapted by David Aula and Jimmy Osborne of FallOut Theatre for the Vault Festival. In it, the confusing urges and discomfort of teenage years are looked at through the prism of trauma.
When the kids’ parents die, they are left to fend for themselves. With no authority to contend with and their burgeoning sexuality to muddle matters, their old house becomes a place of dark secrets.
Aula also directs the production, and he brings out the overarching sense of unease beautifully. It’s staged over two levels on a big iron scaffolding. The cast clamber all over the set and the constant movement makes the house feel as though something might start to crack very soon.
The older brother, Jack, played by George MacKay, is a bundle of sexual tension. Forever wanking and fantasising over his sister, he is our untrustworthy narrator. MacKay is compelling, his wide eyes and lanky body twisting and turning, always in thrall to his conflicting emotions. You’re never quite sure what he will do next. His excellent performance drives the show, but there’s strong work from the rest of the cast.
Aula and Osborne’s adaptation gets a little baggy after the first 40 minutes or so and there are odd moments of stagy choreography which feel a little drama-school. But for the most part the production brings out McEwan’s unsettling ability to normalise the disturbing and, as such, leaves a lingering and uncomfortable taste in the mouth.
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