Both harrowing and uplifting, DenMarked is a true story of pain and isolation told through music and a powerful dramatic performance.
Hunched over a small guitar and sillhouetted by the golden lights beaming from the back of the stage, Conrad Murray plays a melancholic melody as the audience take their seats. The tune evokes the enchantment of the Rennaisance, while still pertaining to the sensibilities of an R&B classic. The preset foreshadows the play’s creative fusion of styles, while also setting the tone for a sorrowful tale. When the lights come up, the music swells and then ceases. Murray, sweating under his signature red baseball cap, begins to tell the audience about a job interview he had for a position as a drama teacher. And so begins the heart-pounding exhilaration of DenMarked.
Now, most people get anxious before a job interview. We laugh in recognition as Murray scrutinizes his own appearance and debates the possible negative impression he’s making, walking around with a takeaway coffee cup in his hand. But before we get to the interview itself, Murray begins to reminisce. As he frets over his limited knowledge of Shakespeare, Hamlet comes into his mind – and Murray demonstrates the significance of this text to the story of his own life: “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” He tells us about life growing up on a council estate, and how that experience leaves you with an ‘(e)state of mind’. At the end of the piece, when we finally return to the job interview, the audience have a greater understanding of just how important this moment is to Murray. DenMarked shows us what he has had to overcome to be where he is now.
From the tales of his violent father and suffering mother, to his first kiss and first crime, Murray weaves the tale masterfully between drama and comedy. The sudden shifts into eloquent Shakespearean verse reinforce the piece’s darker and more reflective themes, and in natural breaks, Murray creates incredible sounds with songs all made utilising a looping station set up at the front of the stage. With only his voice and some occasional guitar work, Murray manages to create some awe-inspiring pieces of music. Not only do these pieces enhance the powerful emotions of the play, but also showcase how much talent Murray possesses in singing, rapping and beat-boxing.
Co-directors Ria Parry and Laura Keefe have guided Murray into a slick and powerful performance, without taking away any of the raw essence of his true experiences. DenMarked is a unique and effective take on the one-person show format, and a true piece of art in its own right: never once boring and always sincere.