THE MARKED at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

It’s clear that Theatre Témoin have done their research for this piece and are passionate about the themes it tackles. Their program notes and website list the organisations they have collaborated with and include quotes from the homeless and those with mental health issues, and they have organised symposiums around the topics as part of this play’s touring programme. We know these are difficult but important issues to deal with but that doesn’t always make for good theatre. However, in The Marked Theatre Témoin have managed to tackle their subject matter in a sensitive, informative and entertaining way.

Jack is homeless in London. Surrounded by crates, bins and rubbish he wanders the streets trying to find food and somewhere to sleep; constantly shouted at to move on and desperate for warmth at night. He has troubles in the present and demons in his past. The faceless pedestrians and fellow vagrants he encounters are to be avoided; he only talks to the pigeons. An unintended encounter with another homeless couple reawakens his emotions, his memories of comfort and care. There is a glimmer of friendship; he sees an unpleasant situation emerging and unexpectedly he attempts to help.

We learn about Jack’s past, his memories, his thoughts and feelings, through the clever interplay of dialogue, puppetry and physical theatre. His encounters flash by with ephemeral lighting, his anger and despair boom in the industrial soundscape and his demons are brought to life in the rubbish and bin bags. His story is told in a clever collage of evocative masks, enchanting marionettes and the sound of smashed bottles. The three actors are impressive: they swap between the main characters and the minor roles, they work the puppets, wear masks and full body costumes. They appear from all sides as creatures and demons, and execute complex transformations of style and character as the play moves through the past, the present and the nightmare. They bring us horror, pathos and the odd comic moment.

Homelessness and mental health are important matters that need to be discussed and confronted by all of us but reporting facts and imparting statistics are best left to the newspapers and TV shows. Theatre is at its best when it tackles these serious and complex issues in a creative and entertaining way. And although at times the narrative is little cliched, in this show we get a tangible and lucid sense of what it’s like to be alone, friendless and hounded by demons from your past.  The piece evokes genuine emotional responses about Jack’s distressing condition, his disturbing experiences and troubling background with its skilful mix of action, lighting, sound and stagecraft. With The Marked Theatre Témoin have got a visual, visceral piece of engaging theatre.  ★★★★★   Adrian Mantle   12th May 2017