First published back in December of 1996, Clive Barker’s ‘Forms Of Heaven’ followed on from his previous collection of reprinted plays, entitled ‘Incarnations’ (1995), once again publishing another three scripts from Barker’s early days.

Laughter, Love, And Chocolate: An Introduction - 8 pages
Barker begins the collection with a reasonably short introduction detailing much of the ‘when, why and how’ questions surrounding the original writing of the three plays that are included in this collection.  Barker discusses the comparisons between his earlier collection of plays that were included within ‘Incarnations’ (1995); describing the vast difference in the overall style, substance and direction of the plays (most notably how these are comedies as opposed to the dark and sinister stories within the earlier collection).  As a whole the introduction forms a good strong starting point for beginning out with these three incredibly original and individually unique stories.

Crazyface – 116 pages
It is the time of the Renaissance.  Out in the Low Countries Ella Eulenspiegel, together with her three daughters-in-law – Sheba, Irvette and Annie, along with her son, the simple fool, Tyl Eulenspiegel, have found themselves in exile from another city.  A recurring situation thanks to Tyl who is better known as Crazyface.

As the family approaches the town of Loon they encounter quite a commotion.  Speaking with the locals who are gathered around the broken body of the town idiot, Wormwood, they learn that he had attempted to fly by jumping off the town’s church spire with a pair of homemade wings attached to his back.  The end result was inevitable.

However to Tyl, there is much more to Wormwood than a mere idiot.  As Wormwood lies dying on the unforgiving ground, Tyl is able to speak with him about his final thoughts.  And in Wormwood he finds a kindred spirit.  For Wormwood had glimpsed the true unreality of the world, and from that, he had taken to the skies.  Tyl himself could understand such a desire having been dismissed as crazy, all because he is able to see angels.

But, as with everything that happens in the world, events continue to spiral in strange new directions.  Following Wormwood’s death, Tyl is coerced into burying the body.  However whilst Tyl is digging the grave, he is approached by four spies from across Europe.  But Alvarez, the ‘Spanish Fly’, is attacked when masked assassins converge on the crossroads.  As the dust settles on the scene, Tyl finds himself with Alvarez as he faces his demise.  And just before death takes him, the Spanish spy bequeaths a small puzzle box to Tyl.  A box that the other three spies are desperate to get their hands on.  A box that contains the glory of the world…the salvation of Spain.

And now, with the much sought after box in his possession, Tyl Eulenspiegel must leave his family and travel alone if he wishes to survive.  But it’s a strange and winding path that Crazyface’s life is to follow.  And the plummeting madness that is always present with the clown is only just beginning…

Written in 1982, ‘Crazyface’ was one of three plays that had been commissioned by the artistic director of London’s Cockpit Theatre, Alasdair Cameron, following the end of the Dog Company.  The play, which was often subtitled ‘A Comedy (with Lions)’ was an ambitious story that trod the faint line between comedy and tragedy.

Having been inspired to write a play that included the fictional prankster from German folklore, Tyl Eulenspiegel, Barker penned a story that fits snugly in a suitably medieval setting, with a vast array of outlandish characters seemingly contending for their share of the roaming limelight.  Although Barker’s use of the character of Tyl Eulenspiegel is vastly different to  that of the classic German folklore, Barker has nevertheless kept the seemingly reckless drive of the clown’s actions in his play; offering a new lease of life to a character who has otherwise faded away into the background through time.

The end result is something akin to Barker’s ‘The Adventures Of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus And His Travelling Circus’ (2009) but viewed through a mind-bending trip.  It’s as absurd as it is farcical; with strangeness substituting the need for any real direction.  On top of the craziness of the play is an escalating inclusion of violence and calculated tragedy.  And with the play’s course leading down an increasingly winding and risky path, it’s not long before the reader feels like all they can do is read on whilst they attempt to ride out the madness.

‘Crazyface’ is not a story that particularly rewards the reader.  It holds its goal close to its chest, and instead plays out a tale that doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere.  However, amongst the chaos and catastrophe, a grinning fool can be seen emerging time and time again from the thick cloud of mindless mayhem.  And on that charming level at least it works.

The publication also includes 3 pages of Production Notes which forms a further introduction to the play as well as 3 pages listing the various cast members and the different scenes included in the play.

Paradise Street – 88 pages
Lance-corporal from the Royal Corps of Transport, Shay Bonner, has come back to Liverpool with one week’s leave before he is to report back to the barracks.  And so he arrives at the torn down remains of what was once Paradise Street, where just one solitary house now remains amongst the piles of rubble.  The one remaining building is the squat that Bonner’s brother, Quinn Bonner, and his partner Caroline call their home.  

However, Shay Bonner’s return to the grey and dreary streets of Liverpool isn’t relished by all those that knew him before he went off to carve out a career in the army.  When he upped and left, he left behind his then pregnant partner, Georgia.  And the three-and-a-half years that have now passed haven’t quenched her deep-set hatred for the man.

But it’s not just Shay Bonner’s presence that will stir up further trouble along Paradise Street.  The mad Irish poet, Jack Mulrooney, is still haunting the abandoned street; eagerly waiting for a miracle to happen.  Not only that but Queen Elizabeth I has travelled through time, along with a small entourage from her court, to find out whether or not she has inherited the pox.

Even in its flattened and desolate state, Paradise Street still has an abundance of maddening antics to offer as Christmas Day draws near.  And Shay Bonner is at the center of it all, with his irrepressible urge to antagonize.  Let the madness commence…

Having received some moderate success under the banner of the Dog Company, Barker went on to pen the script for ‘Paradise Street’ in 1981.  The play threw together a concoction of off-the-wall ideas and baffling situations that come from a mind that was clearly rich with imagination.  And in ‘Paradise Street’ Barker pushes obscurity and the ludicrous to the limit, perhaps even over-stepping the boundary between fantasy and ridiculous.

Utilising a backdrop that is rich with scope to accomodate any twist or turn in the overall direction of the story (whether it is to embrace romance, tragedy, comedy, drama or the plain surreal), ‘Paradise Street’ is a tale that anchors itself in a strong setting and lets the character-rich chaos come to it.

What you find as the play crashes along on its zigzagged course, is that the reader is subjected to a baffling array of oddly out-of-place characters who interact with each other in a ‘Jerry Springer’ exaggerated fashion.  The end result is a camp and chaotic battlefield for character rivalry and explosive reactions.

Although the scenes contain many of the same characters, the story nevertheless comes across as too much of a confusingly muddled mess.  The characters that drive the tale don’t appear to take to any particularly defined route, only pushing the storyline along due to a random cause & effect type of occurrence. As such, much of the way that the play flows seems constantly at odds with itself.  Never really cresting that hill of logic or at least formulating some degree of basic understanding.

What the reader is left with is a strange melting pot of wacky ideas that feel more at home in an adult-themed Blackadder special without any hint of an underlying direction.  And from this, it’s hard not to feel just that little bit disappointed.

The publication also includes 2 pages of Production Notes which forms a further introduction to the play as well as 1 page listing the various cast members.

Subtle Bodies – 141 pages
Dexter Juffs and Carys Skinner had run away to the Atlantic Hotel located on the North-West coast of England.  It was a small tatty hotel, but it held fond memories for Dexter from when he was just a young boy.  However, since then it had changed hands and was sadly no longer the quaint seaside hotel that he remembered so dearly.  Furthermore, for some reason the sea had gradually retreated away from the hotel over the years.  Now there was just sand, sand and more sand, for as far as the eye could see.

Nevertheless the young couple were glad to have gotten away.  They had been due to be married the very next day, however Dexter was struggling with a personal issue he was sure would make him an unsuitable husband.  For he had succumbed to the sins of the flesh with a man – and that man was none other than his best man Robert Kidd – and now he was questioning his own sexuality.

However, before Dexter could confess his problem to his wife-to-be, both of the couple’s families turn up at the hotel, absolutely intent on seeing the wedding through.  But the water-colourist and nonsense poet, Edward Lear, whose afterlife has been spent living at the Atlantic Hotel, under the assumed name of his favourite cat, Mr Foss, has another agenda for being at the hotel.  For Foss is an agent with the Dream Bureau.  But when he starts toying with the dreams of the wedding guests, they each find that their true desires are revealed for all to see, whilst they sail through the vast expanse of the dream sea on board ‘The Bear Of Amsterdam’…

This final play in the collection is definitely the most complex as far as the characters involved.  In a nutshell, it’s just a long chain of characters who each desire someone other than the person who wants them.  And with them all coming together in one isolated location, where love should supposedly be in the air, the end result is a farcically over-the-top scenario of sensuality, sexuality and whimsical notions of the forbidden.

The sheer number of cast members with strong parts gives you a good indication of how elaborate the play as a whole is going to become.  And on top of this colourful mixture of characters, Barker throws in a magnificently ambitious dream sequence – with the dream ship ‘The Bear Of Amsterdam’ mimicking that of the Titanic, with all of the wedding guests showing their true colours as the great ship sinks.  Laced with comedy and the delightfully ludicrous, the play is as wacky and off-the-wall as you like.

The whole story is awash with drama, clashing personalities, as well as dirty revelations and misplaced desire.  And it’s very focussed on the interaction between the numerous guests and their questionable relationships.  But beneath all the farcical drama, there’s a complex array of personal threads in which the reader (or audience) can start to pull something more in touch with themselves from.  The characters have their own intimate voyages to go on, many of which will reflect the true feelings and desires of those who are reading or watching the play.  And with these reflections of life, shown through the colourful mayhem of a manic comedy, something very real and comprehendible can be seen shining through.

The publication also includes 2 pages of Production Notes which forms a further introduction to the play as well as 1 page listing the various cast members.

The book runs for a total of 378 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Make a free website with Yola