On one side of the stage, an apothecary's surgery the size of a doll's house; on the other, a higgledy-piggledy stack of buildings. We're in London, it's 1665, and – the narrator tells us – a stranger has come from the sea. It's the plague, of course, and before the hour is out, a starburst of red crosses have appeared on the doors of the city. Tracing two characters, a doctor and his daughter, A Song Of Plague is a haunting piece of puppetry which successfully evokes a distant place and time.
There is a storyline – and a back-story, too, revealed in a captivating shadow-puppet interlude towards the end. But for me, this show is more about mood and atmosphere than it is about plot, and the mood it conjures is a surprisingly mellow one. We share the doctor's fear and despair, but in the end we're reminded of death's place in life's great cycle… and cautioned against the hubris of believing that we can stave it off forever.
The journey towards that truth isn't without humour; I particularly enjoyed the irreverent opening segment, which is a little bit like a Punch and Judy show set inside an MC Escher print. In the main, though, the tone is sober but engaging, offering time for reflection but never feeling slow.
The original score, performed live by actor-musician Sonny Brazil, does a lot to carry the performance along. Folkish and lamenting, it's perfectly matched to the tone of the piece. The poetic narration is fitting too, somehow comforting in its rhythm and rhyme, despite the macabre history it's describing.
A smattering of visual flourishes rounds out the work: the plague hangs over the city, the rats dance across the performers' arms, and lighting designer Lauren Elizabeth Godin pulls out something special for the finale. A few of the motifs are a tiny bit clichéd, and from time to time the mechanics of the puppetry were distractingly on display. But this is an impressive debut from the Lost In The Fog theatre company – a show which succeeds in its own right, and also holds great promise for the years to come.