A sensual, exciting & terrifying production fusing film, music, immersive design and theatre, Hellscreen follows an artist, his daughter & a collector on their descent into hellish greed & obsession.
by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Rachel Parish
Inspired by a classic Japanese horror story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, set in the contemporary London art world, and featuring film director Susan Luciani’s live action film sequences and animation.
★★★★ London City Nights
“This is a deeply effective production, one that’s constantly finding new ways to toy with the audience and provoke a response from us. In a world full of fluffy theatrical trivialities it cuts a distinctive, solitary figure—one well worth checking out.”
This video shows a work-in-progress reel for the multi-media portions of the show.
Co-writers Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Rachel Parish
Director Rachel Parish
Designer Ana Ines Jabares Pita
Video Susan Luciani
Lighting Natasha Chivers
Composer Joe Hastings
Visual Effects Supervisor Lindsey McFarlane
Cast includes: Jonny Woo, Suzette Llewelyn, Vanessa Schofield, Andrea Ling
Film Production – Edit – Sound Mix – Picture Grade – VFX – by double barrel productions
★★★★, British Theatre.com
“Hellscreen has its point of departure in a classic Japanese short story by Akutagawa published as long ago as 1918….Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Rachel Parish transfer the core thematic and psychological matrix of the story very successfully into the framework of the modern art world and an exploration of its cult of excess. Frank Holt (Jonny Woo) is a contemporary artist who seeks to shock but seems to have reached his boundaries and lost his audience. He falls back on his relationship with his daughter Amy (Vanessa Schofield), the one element of his life that is untouched by cynicism. However, he returns to work and gains unprecedented new success after meeting collector and patron Katherine Bowker (Suzette Llewellyn), who encourages him to cross further boundaries of artistic exploration by re-enacting in front of an audience a sequence of atrocities of ever escalating horror. These incidents, carried off with improvisatory flair by a chorus of actors, break down the ‘fourth wall’ decisively by involving us in the execution of the crimes. In the meantime Bowker cunningly extracts Amy from these events to prevent her applying restraints on her father, and sequesters her on her island retreat to pursue her own pattern of artistic contemplation. Ultimately Amy returns to her father, and one after the other each is ruthlessly drawn into a final and deeply symbolic immolation.
It is hugely to the credit of the production team, who have worked on this adaptation for a number of years, that they have managed to touch on so many important and rightly troubling issues. Some of these relate to art itself: are there boundaries left to what counts as art? Is the patron a noble and enabling figure or a selfish and manipulative one? Do artists inevitably sacrifice their loved ones for their art? Does art criticism now recognize any value other than sensationalism? But the most disconcerting questions relate to the increasingly aestheticised presentation of violence in the media and our exposure to it. Has this encouraged a voyeuristic numbing passivity that undermines our ability to react as citizens in real life? What should be the proper response to the ever more extensive depictions of violence? With daily manipulative reminders from ISIS that the boundaries of horror can in fact be pushed ever further, and a record disseminated around the world in no time, these could not be more pertinent questions.
So it was no surprise that it was the scenes based on court transcripts of real crimes that hit home hardest with the audience, creating some of those moments of totally silent concentration when you know everyone is engaged in the moment and the heart of the matter. But that should in no way detract from the quality of the acting and production values elsewhere. Woo is very effective at projecting a dangerous, unpredictable intensity as the troubled artist, and Schofield creates a still centre of alternative values and beauty, often using singing to powerful emotional effect. But perhaps the most intriguing acting came from Llewellyn whose motivations as artistic patron remain elusive behind a beguiling range of charm and generosity of spirit that also shades into opportunistic manipulation and a desire for reflected glory. Around and within each short scene is wrapped an inventive range of music, video projection (on the perspex curtains), sound effects and energetic, fluid interventions by the chorus, one of whom also has a nicely turned, funny cameo as an art critic who is revealed as a vapid relativist with no core beliefs….A traverse setting allows you to observe your fellow audience members in detail and it is testament to the consistently thought-provoking quality of this reimagined tale that the carefree cosmopolitan chatter at the start had given way by the end to animated but serious discussion of what we had witnessed, and above all to a certain shuffling awkwardness in the face of the uncomfortable truths glimpsed in the mirror held up to ourselves. We were disconcerted, and rightly so.”