By Tom Barry
Danse Macabre return to the University of York, to purvey their own take on the twisted fairytale, a cross between the visual stylings of Tim Burton and the dry humour of a Fry and Laurie sketch.
Without cleaving too closely to the source inspiration, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow recounts just one of the adventures in the challenging life of Ichabod Crane, travelling musician and archetypal straight face to contrast with the thoroughly outlandish sensibilities of the assorted townsfolk, all played nimbly and with tangible delight by the ensemble cast. Guy Matthews in the role of Ichabod remains endearingly sympathetic in his performance, underscored by an understated comic instinct that chimes perfectly with the tone of the piece. His part is the play’s foundation, grounding the more phantasmagoric aspects, and allowing several of the other characters to pinwheel wholeheartedly into caricature. Edward Ray as the audience’s guide and occasional narrator has an infectious glee, and an unseemly amount of fun switching between his manifold personas, while the other actors are all distinct and interesting in their own ways, quickly establishing how they feel about each other in their strange community.
The fading light against the ochre stones of Heslington Hall provides an inimitable twilight ambience, illuminating the casts almost vaudevillian attire and their pallidly-contoured faces in a sense ethereal, that would be impossible to achieve artificially. The shadows grow deeper and the air begins to chill as the play becomes darker, turning from grim wit to unsettling dread. The production succeeds in instilling its venue the Quiet Place with a greater versatility and mystery than other promenade performances I have seen there, and even in larger environs. And the performance continues apace, by the close encouraging the audience to participate in the protagonists’ urgency, running alongside them from the menace that lurks in the darkness. At an hour long, my only regret was at the abruptness of the conclusion. Simply, I wanted more.; more jokes, more characters, more things going bump in the night.
Devised from scratch, Danse Macabre and director Joseph Willis have cultivated an engaging, sometimes foreboding, but most importantly funny summer evening’s entertainment.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is performing in the Quiet Place outside Heslington Hall, Derwent College tonight and tomorrow at 9pm. Tickets available on entry (£4/5) and online (£5)