Review by Heather Morgan (July 2012)
For their recent production of Genghis Khan: Child of the Blue Wolf YAT took a leaf out of their eponymous hero's book and extended their territory across the Thames into neighbouring Kingston to perform at the Arthur Cotterell Theatre as part of the International Youth Arts Festival.
Shortly after the demise of their founder, Eric Yardley, the group did him proud with a strong production of a home-grown piece. The play was conceived and written by one of YAT's alumni, David Kenzie, better known to TTC members as David Wheatley. As far back as 1994 Eric had suggested to him that he might write a play for the group and it was duly premiered at the old Hampton Court Theatre.
So this was the brainchild of a young man who clearly had a philosophical turn of mind. This was evident in the quieter, more reflective passages of this threatening and violent story. Most of us know and think of Genghis Khan as a warrior who successfully unified disparate warring factions into a furious fighting force and who dealt out horrendous retribution to anyone standing in the way of his empire-building ambitions. For all that, Wheatley’s extensive research revealed a tyrant with a surprisingly liberal side to him. He was unexpectedly tolerant of those various different religious beliefs. He was fascinated by the evolution of the written word and a scribe’s ability to tell a story.
And what a story! It was narrated by his trusted cook/cup-bearer who revealed to him the power of the written word. From his account we learned the stories of the Khan’s opponents as well as of the ‘little people’, those whose lives had been irrevocably affected by their leader’s vengeful atrocities.
Bill Compton’s masterfully directed production opened with the players at full stretch and at their most energetic in a cleverly choreographed slow motion battle scene to the accompaniment of an evocative film score.
The casting was interesting in that, rather than selecting one of YAT’s more flamboyant actors to play Genghis, the role was almost under-played by a slightly-built actor whom I do not recall playing a leading role before. However, with eyes flashing and nostrils flaring, he made his presence felt when aroused to anger, yet still allowed us to believe in the more reflective side of his nature, which I have already touched on. In a strong performance the Khan’s cup-bearer took on the storytelling in his first monologue. His was a pivotal role of which the actor was fully in command. His rape scene which brought Act 1 to a close was delicately handled.
There were several well-played roles but in the absence of a cast list, it was difficult to identify them. The whole cast, whether in silent or speaking roles, put heard work into their characterisations. Good ensemble work showed in the movement and tableaux throughout, the whole enhanced by the costumes provided by YAT’s redoubtable wardrobe mistress and most encouraging supporter, Eileen Baker.
The production was dedicated to the memory of Eric Yardley. What a legacy he left this promising group.