Latch review by Rachel Warriner
With our elbows resting on the windowsills upstairs in a half built house, we watched as the story of Latch, a child accidentally locked out of his house while his parents are out for the night, unfolds in the street outside. Set and staged outside a row of empty houses, this performance by the Cork based Hammergrin Theatre Company is an enticing experience.
The story of ‘Latch’ is at once straightforward and complex. The conceit is relatively simple; the fantasies of a child stuck alone in the gathering night take over his thoughts with the help of some unpleasant teenagers and an unfortunate death or two. The narrative of those fantasies, however, twists and turns. It is full of the kinds intrigue and drama that we might expect from the imagination of a child, alone and with time to kill, in a frightening situation. The characters that Latch conjures are of different types. There are his imaginary sidekicks, who run and exclaim their lines like perky cartoon heroes; a cagey outsider, who suddenly appears with a suspiciously complete knowledge of the terrifying ‘watchers’ that lurk in the hills ready to murder people when it gets dark; and the petrifying heckling figure who returns from beyond the grave. This combination, otherwise shamelessly contrived and clichéd, seems perfectly reasonable when framed in the context of a child’s private mental life. It is in this that the story is strongest; the childishness portrayed is not one of a sickly innocence, but neither is it sinisterly dark. Instead it is well observed. The story develops with slight jumps in logic and a mixture between intense and over-the-top drama with a lack of attention to detail at the things that adults pay attention to but children don’t. An example is the ‘few words’ said for the man whose body is buried, these are indeed few and feeble.
The site specificity adds greatly to this subtle observation. There is often a problem with site specific work in that the staging of a piece in a non-performance space is often nothing more than a novelty, at worst it becomes a marketing strategy aimed to entice audiences. However, in this performance the setting really works. The generic housing estate ‘green space’ of suburbia with its deliberately designed visibility becomes the setting for something sinister and fantastic, but because of the setting we never forget the reality of the situation. The well constructed nature of the piece is maintained as we pretend with the child, rather than become overwhelmed by his fantasies. There is also an interesting sense of voyeurism, peeking out of the window, sometimes through binoculars, at the types of things that people do look out for: teenage misbehaviour, strangers suddenly appearing, children playing unsupervised. ‘Latch’ is, in a way, quite a sweet play. Not in its story, which is as vicious and morbid as any childhood game, but in the picture it paints of imagination, pretence and play.