Searching for something different for the weekend, I glanced through the event listings at our local Arts Centre, The Lighthouse Poole. Scrolling down the page I spotted that fantastic word, Triffids!. It couldn’t be anything else could it? It had to be those pesky carnivorous human-eating plant-life! Excitedly I read the tagline…
“ATTENTION EARTH-PEOPLE Platform 4 Presents… A gig theatre adventure in sound and music. An inspired take on John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids.”
As kids we had our little minds twisted and freaked out by the cult 1981 BBC television series where we followed Bill Masen’s (John Duttine) terrifying awakening to a world gone blind. He escaped the fate of sight-loss because when the rest of the world’s population was marveling at the celestial wonders of an incredible meteorite shower that filled the night skies in wondrous colours, he was laid up in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged. The awesome spectacle on display was truly unfathomable and completely unmissable. People of the world joyfully gasped in pure wonder and awe at a spectacle never before seen. However, the next day, everyone who had enjoyed and witnessed those beautiful unearthly cosmic delights were now… blind!
Before that fateful day, some years back, a weirdly strange and oddly unique plant had started growing across the world. It was a hardy-looking species of vegetation that grew to a colossal 7 foot plus. Inside it’s flower head core, it held a venomous sting that could fly out and poison it’s victim. Luckily it was reasonably docile and as long as you kept your distance and wits about you, you could easily outmanoeuvre its dangerous reach. Soon it would be cultivated and used in all manner of products. Farms would grow fields of the giant flower ready to harvest. The strange plant had become the norm until that fateful night the comets came. With the night skies turning wild with magnificent technicolour across the lands, the Triffids would seize their moment. For humankind was now clumsy, frightened and vulnerable. They had been dropped into darkness. The Triffids would now have their feed. The world was now their feeding ground. They began to move!…
English science fiction writer John Wyndham wrote his post-apocalyptic novel, The Day Of The Triffids, way back in 1951. It fueled many an imagination, especially with this young Mikey. The TV series was terrifyingly exciting as I watched mesmerised from the hopeful safety of the sofa. That era of British television was the thing of amazing nightmares. See my article Dark British TV Thriller Opening Themes That Were Freaky As F… We were constantly abused by creative fear-inducing science fiction thrillers with freaky creatures, eerie story lines or end of the world, doomsday scenarios.
I had read the novel at school, watched my Mum’s favourite American heartthrob, Howard Keel, battle the blasted veggie vermin in the 1963 cinematic experience. “A Nightmare Come to Life! From the Novel That Frightened the World!” In 2009, a two part TV movie was made starring Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson and Eddie Izzard to name a few of the cast members. It was pretty bad to be fair but I happily sat and watched it. The word, Triffid, would even work itself into the English Dictionary.
So yes, I was pretty excited to go see whatever his theatre experience would bring…
Walking into the The Sherling Studio of The Lighthouse, I was greeted by what could be only be described as stepping into something akin to the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop. You half expected Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and Dick Mills to appear. And wonderfully, when the cast of musicians did emerge from behind the curtain they were dressed in lab coats and clothes of the era. Spread out across the space was a marvellous mix of eclectic vintage electronic equipment and traditional instruments like violins, double bass, clarinet, an accordion and a pump organ. Dotted about on the set were a few instruments I had to look up, like a Dulcitone and a Hammer Dulcimer. I spotted the school classic, the recorder, sat on a stool next to a Melodica. The more your eyes scanned the room, the more you saw. A electric Vibraphone, the amazing Moog and to my delight that spooky and brilliant electronic wonder, the Theremin. But hang on! there is one more item of noise to hear about, The Cactus! Yes you read right and I kid you not. A spikey cactus was sat inside it’s plant pot ready to be played? The musical technician pulls a string like cord over the spikes to create an other-worldly sound. It really made me smile and fitted in well with the plant based media.
Surrounding the set was the backdrop of a huge arched, panoramic screen that showed visuals. Cuts of real footage, vocal samples and special effects flow through the story. Our survivor Bill has been changed to Jill and the focus of the narration. A pained determined performance that pushed the story arc through as each section of our heroine’s journey is set to a unique musical collage. Improvised jazz, to traditional folky sounds, a tune with a War of the Worlds feel, it kept changing, a blue grass number and then a more modern dance tune with crazy cuts of vegetable names! The two guys on synthesizers looked like Kraftwerk working in Arkwright’s shop from Open All Hours. All five band members worked in unison, effortlessly moving around each other, picking up instruments. Sad faces giving way to touching small smiles of hope as the foreboding low frequency of the Moog gave a bass of dread. The fairy tale sounds of the Dulcitone play out alongside the strings of a violin, together with a lullaby singing. The darkness of the narration then cuts through to move you once again. And when the Theremin comes into play, it filters though memories that evoke the mystery of science fiction soundscapes of 50s B-movies.
It was an incredible performance from the theatre group Platform 4 which brought back so many memories of this story from my youth.
All the best…. Mikey Wolfman