Kaspar is a brand new theatre piece, commissioned and produced by South Street Arts Centre for their current festival of storytelling. It is a story of love and betrayal, a grand, epic narrative, written and devised by its performer, Benedict Sandiford and the director Cassie Friend. This story is told to the audience in a yurt, whose entrance is through a corridor of hessian sacks. It never fails to add excitement to transform a space in that way, and it provides an extra layer to the performance. The experience is one of being surrounded, just as the character himself is surrounded. We are also surrounded by light and sound, from outside the yurt. The first things we hear are the sounds of the fairground, not the laughter of children, the sunny day time enjoyments, but the background sounds, the performers, the workers, behind the scenes. Sound and light are carefully placed in the show, and atmospheric sound effects elevate the complex narrative.

Our main voice is that of Kaspar himself, a magician by day, and a master of darker arts by night. He is a fugitive, and he has an urgent story to tell with not much time left to tell it, and is played by Sandiford with great sincerity. It is a serious story and he is a serious character, engrossed in the world, engrossed in the drama of his own life. Benedict’s delivery is very focussed, economical and compelling as he shifts from character to character, and from one storytelling technique to another. There are some moments of real atmosphere, in particular a scene in which he physicalises the hauling up of a huge big top circus tent, in a pouring rain storm. Again, strong sound effects and lighting, from outside the yurt, (provided by Adrian Croton) create a bigger world than the small dark one we are seated within. A dark spell that the character casts is represented by swirling light across the surface of a dented, black suitcase, the suitcase that embodies both prop and character throughout the piece. It is a dramatic scene, lit beautifully and performed with an ominous menace.
We also meet Kaspar’s wife, played by Poppy Price, a young local performer, who flits, ghost like, in and out of Kaspar’s story, and of the yurt at key moments in the narrative. Her character is almost an image of his conscience, as he resigns himself to his inevitable fate. It is this final change of heart, his surrender, that demonstrates one of the difficulties with telling a story this complex. We never really get to know, in any depth, any of the characters. The plot drives on, detailed and beautifully, lyrically written, but at times it leaves the characters themselves behind. We don’t see or feel Kaspar’s emotional journey clearly, and therefore, some empathy is lost. This is not a criticism of the performance, which is thick with passion and emotion, but more of a heavily narrative driven piece that leaves little room for the characters to breathe or to simply inhabit the moment.

Having interviewed Benedict and Cassie whilst they were in the midst of devising this piece, it is fascinating to see the end result. The tensions of the piece, as there are with the creation of any new work, that they were grappling with in the devising process are, in some part, answered, and others are still present, unresolved. These tensions add to the atmosphere and voice of the piece, perhaps without many of the audience realising that these have been thrashed out ad infinitum by the makers. In interview, the two talked about struggling to communicate the mystical world of Kaspar, the complicated details of the type of mysterious dark magic he is involved in, and how much should be kept and how much should be stripped away. It seems that this mystical, somewhat unknowable world has been greatly simplified for a less knowledgable audience and it is all the better for it. We are left wondering, questioning and imagining about this dark art, what it is and how Kaspar came upon it, rather than getting lost in detail, especially important as the story itself is so complex.

The sound and lighting that the pair talked about in interview, was being developed alongside the narrative, intergral to the devising, but unable to be tested because of the lack of the yurt. The effect of sound from outside and how lights would reach through the sides of the tent, were all unknown until very near the final performance, and the end result is hugely successful, leaving the audience gazing upwards to spot the blackbird flying around the outside of the yurt, and to sense the rain pelting down as Kaspar heaves the ropes of the big top.
It is always uplifting to see theatre created from a moment of inspiration, and this story has been crafted by its teller. His investment in it and his integrity is hugely apparent. It is this that enables it to be dramatic and atmospheric, and demand that you follow the narrator through the tent and out into another world.

You can read the interview with Sandiford and Friend by clicking here