Almost Blue is this year's winner of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Award, presented to emerging theatrical talent. It's not hard to see why - it boasts innovation by the truck-load, combining sophisticated sound technology, modern dance and drama in a detective thriller with a difference.
A serial killer is targeting students. The only suspect, identified by fingerprints at the murder scene, is supposed to have died eight years ago. The only witness, Simon, is blind. Simon also has synaesthesia, meaning his senses are confused. The only clue Inspector Grace has to go on is that the murderer "sounds green."
The dramatic interest is sustained by Simon and Grace. Declan Harvey gives a sensitive performance as Simon, a hacker who tunes into police radios and mobile telephones and whose maxim is "there's always someone listening". He falls for the blue tones of Grace's (Abigail Davies) careworn voice and they embark on a mutually dependent relationship.
Around them swirls a maelstrom of victims and murderers. Mating rituals in internet chat-rooms are played out through sensuous, flowing movements which transform into a familiar dance of death. The dance pedigree of the young cast is put to particularly good use in the frenetic rush-hour scene in which Grace is pushed and pulled by the bodies of sinister strangers.
As the action builds to a climax, it is revealed that the murderer is stealing the identity of his victims (and, in a Silence of the Lambs twist, the skin from their faces). Grace finds she too is blind in the investigation, as sight become useless and sound becomes the sole distinguishing feature.
Ultimately, the mystery is swamped by the audio- visual trickery and the climactic revelation ("A person's voice is the soundtrack of their soul") verges on cliché. The dance would benefit from more sparing use. In the studio surroundings, the production feels studenty. That said, this is a highly energetic and slickly produced work, making its creators worthy winners of their prize.
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