Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kin at the Royal Court

EV Crowe’s first full length play for the Royal Court paints a bleak picture of boarding school life. It concerns two young room-mates, Janey and Mimi, both ten. Theirs is a stark world, lit by strip lights and entirely lacking in comfort, cold in more ways than one. Because the play is set in the mid-1990s the payphone, providing a lone link to home, is a central part of their lives and as such the site of conflict and emotion, the holding back of tears. 

While Kin can be superficially linked to the work of Polly Stenham and Anya Reiss, plays by young women depicting the turbulent lives of middle class children, it’s in some ways a less daring piece. Where Crowe – whose short playDoris Day is currently showing at Soho Theatre as part of their Charged season – really excels is in creating atmosphere, in capturing the vocabulary of the dormitory (anorexia casually abbreviated to ‘annie’ and so forth). The patterns of the girls’ conversations feel plausible and their interactions, alternatively hostile and affectionate, are equally convincing. Janey is cruel to Mimi, both physically and emotionally, yet she is a solid thing in a world of uncertainty, more tangible then her absent parents, and as such is more important; Mimi hates and loves her in equal measure.

The play is less strong structurally. Crowe sets up a scene and then backspins to show the events leading up to it. Yet the play lacks shape and meanders dramatically. This is perhaps necessary to illustrate the repetitious nature of their existence – as it’s twice pointed out the girls have to endure five more years of this before they reach Lower Sixth – but it makes for a rather flat theatrical experience.

The characters are younger than in Stenham and Reiss’s plays. It’s only a couple of years but it makes a difference. Their adult banter and expletive-heavy dialogue feels very much like a case of them testing themselves and each other, pushing the boundaries. It’s far less unnerving than the sexual confidence and emotional confusion of twelve year old Delilah in Reiss’s Spur of the Moment. In fact it’s the adults, or at least their teacher Mrs B (played by a permanently frazzled looking Annette Badland), who seem overly keen to credit them with more sexual experience and understanding than they actually have.

The production also relies rather too much on the mischievous juxtaposition of these sweet-looking girls and the constant stream of ‘fucks’ that spill from their mouths. This is particularly evident when the girls sing Once in Royal David’s City, faces torch-lit and beaming, only to conclude with a casual, “Who the fuck was David?”

Jeremy Herrin (who directed both Spur of the Moment and both of Stenham’s plays) clearly has a knack for drawing strong performances from a young cast. All the girls are making their professional stage debuts and they make a good, if occasionally hesitant, job of their demanding roles. But despite this the play remains sealed off and difficult to penetrate, especially if that’s not a world you’ve known. There are hints of something more reaching in the writing, a very faint sniff of Lindsay Anderson’s If…. Mrs B describes her charges as small dogs and this is echoed in the howling and growling outside the windows, but it’s not something the play builds on. It’s by nature an insular world that Crowe is depicting but it could be made more open, more inviting, instead the play keeps its audience at arm’s length.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coalition at Theatre 503 (Yellow Programme)

The gulf between concept and excution can sometimes be a wide one. For Theatre 503’s Coalition season, ten playwrights have been paired with ten artists: musicians, illustrators, choreographers and, in one case, a puppeteer, to create ten short pieces intended as a response to the incoming government.

The resulting pieces have been split into two programmes (labelled, for obvious reasons, ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’). I saw the yellow programme therby missing Gordon Brown’s whistle-stop visit to the Battersea theatre to catch his speech writer Kirsty McNeill’s Dexterity, part of the blue programme. 

Perhaps inevitably given the format the quality varied - some of the pieces felt bitty and repetitious while others were more intriguing and better developed. Two of them, the vaguely Orwellian We Are Where We Are by Telegraphtheatre critic Dominic Cavendish and comedy troupe Clever Peter and Shotgun Civil Partnership in the Rose Garden by Lola Stephenson and supplemented by songs from cabaret duo Bourgeois and Maurice, felt more like skits than short plays; though enthusiastically performed they were both drawn out beyond their natural end point. In the former a benefits claimant is interoggated by two suited men (one yellow-tied, the other blue-tied) who are keen to reclassify him; it ends in a darkly absurdist place but takes a long while to get there. In the latter piece a gardner forms an uneasy alliance with the shotgun-wielding man who wants to rob his wealthy employer. Their plotting was repeatedly interrupted by the woman in question, clad in evening dress and feather boa, but while her musical interjections are initially amusing, they reap diminishing returns. Both pieces felt blunt in tone and heavy-handed in execution.

More interesting was Of the Willing, the collaboration between Rex Obano (whose promising play Slaves was staged at Theatre 503 earlier this year) and choreographer Mina Aidoo. This felt more like more thought had been put into the idea of artistic cooperation and better demonstatred the creative potential of such collisions. The resulting dance piece was set in part to a twitter feed concerning tuition fees and voiced in a robotic monologue, the dancers combining juvenile arse waggling with frustrated writhing. It was more eloquent while using less words.

The last two plays on the bill were more satisfyingly rounded. Ben Ockrent’s funny and poignant Bedrooms, Dens and other Forms of Magic, the least overtly political playlet, is a tale of two teenagers: Tilly is cocky and rebellious and Neil is nervy and easy to overlook. Susie Hogarth’s illustrations are charming if not as fully integrated into the piece as they could be. Ockrent manages to shape the characters and their relationship - they were friends as younger children but have drifted apart –and say something about the way ones ideals and allegiances shift as one gets older.

The most striking piece of the night was Ella Hickson’s PMQ, which cut to the quick, envisioning David Cameron (a diginified Richard Lintern), preparing himself for his first Prime Minister’s Questions, his confidence repeatedly undercut by a guitar-toting Gwendolen Chatfield, singing the lyrics to Mumford and Sons' Little Lion Man while impishly informing him he has a stain on his trousers and reminding him that some questions are unanswerable. It’s a direct piece, simultaneously brazen yet compassionate, which brushes aside the sniping and swiping to examine Cameron as a man, ambitious, self-assured yet fallible, human - a man who has lost things. Hickson, as her plays Hot Mess and Precious Little Talent, showed is an exciting writer, keen to stretch herself to knew places and in this short piece she does just that, bucking against the black and white, creating something shaded.

Reviewed for musicOMH

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joseph K at the Gate Theatre

It begins with a knock at the door. From the moment on his thirtieth birthday when two blandly efficient men in suits arrest Joseph K for an unspecified crime his life starts to crumble.

His mobile phone no longer works, a block has been put on his passport and he can only withdraw £20 at a time from a cash point. Even the radio appears to have it in for him.

Comedian Tom Basden’s effective contemporary reworking of Kafka’s The Trial is a playful yet tense and sinister piece of writing. The predicament of the lead character slots all too easily into a recognisable world of communicative brick walls and social alienation.

Joseph K, increasingly desperate to escape the charges against him, attempts to battle a system designed to send him in endless loops. He is pitched into an ocean of paperwork, automated telephone systems, and smiling employees with HNDs in empathy but no capacity to actually help him; release is always just teasingly out of reach.

Basden takes some targeted swipes, particularly at the inanity of radio talk shows, but the production’s strengths lie in the general sense of powerlessness and impotence Joseph feels in the face of the tyranny of bureaucracy – something that’s as potent as it’s ever been. It’s this idea of inescapability that lingers, this and the idea of an inevitable drip-down: even as his confidence and sanity deteriorate, Joseph is shown treating others with the same offhand callousness with which the system is treating him.

Pip Carter, as Joseph K, is suitably business-like and upright to begin with so that his gradual reduction into desperation and, eventually, into mute supplication are all the more unsettling to watch. Basden, Tim Key and Sian Brooke divide the remaining characters between them and this use of recurring faces is used to underscore Joseph’s paranoia. As in Basden’s previous play, Party, Key is particularly effective as a performer, playing both an arrogant dressing gown-clad lawyer who refuses to deal with clients not conversant in Latin and Joseph’s nervy underling at the bank whose career prospects rest on an appraisal he has repeatedly failed to complete.

Lyndsey Turner’s production maintains a number of balances, between the comic and the chilling, between a recognisable world and something more absurd and extreme. The tiny Gate stage is made to feel remarkably versatile but the pacing at times is a bit jagged, with frequent scene changes that require the donning and shedding of clothes and the rearranging of furniture; the covering fuzz of white noise doesn’t quite prevent these moments from feeling like lulls and from diluting the otherwise not inconsiderable tension.

At times Joseph’s decline can be read as one man’s consumption by mental illness, as he becomes convinced the radio is saying his name and that everyone, his colleagues, and even his brother, is out to get him. But the play twins this with a sense that the system really is out to drive him to edge, that there are walls he’ll never scale no matter how hard he tries and there are innumerable frameworks in place to prevent him from doing just that.

Reviewed for musicOMH

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic

Tennessee Williams intended The Glass Menagerie to have the texture of memory. The events of the play, as he envisioned them, would have a delicate relationship with the real, an evocative and almost expressionistic atmosphere. Music was to play a key role and a series of title cards and images were to be projected on a screen between scenes, a snippet of dialogue or a spray of blue roses.

This last device was abandoned before the original staging and director Joe Hill-Gibbons does not resurrect it here, but he does attempt to honour other aspects of Williams’ ‘memory play’ through his use of lighting and music.
The production opens with a beautifully executed visual flourish, a splash of stage magic, but though a solid attempt has been made to integrate these elements into the production (that superb opening moment being a good example) some of the early scenes feel heavy and tethered. Things only really coalesce in the second half when many of the stylistic devices are dropped and Williams’ dialogue is allowed to stand alone.

Amanda, the Wingfield matriarch is an ageing southern belle transplanted to a St Louis tenement but still ‘clinging frantically to another place and time’, to her girlhood in Blue Mountain where she once entertained seventeen gentlemen callers in one afternoon. Terrified that her daughter Laura, a desperately shy girl whose chief pleasures are her Victrola records and her collection of tiny glass animals, will end up an old maid, she pesters her son Tom – an overt stand-in for Williams - to invite one of his warehouse colleagues to dinner.

It is the scene between Laura and the Jim, the gentleman caller, a man she hankered after at high school, which makes this production sing rather than hum. Until this point it totters along - there are moments of overplaying and sudden shifts in tone - but a kind of calm descends when Jim arrives at the door.

As in his recent Young Vic production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Hill-Gibbins is fond of placing actors at the very front of the stage with their backs to the audience during key exchanges, thus shifting the attention to the face of the listener. In this context it’s a successful tactic, creating a connecting thread between the audience and Laura, allowing them to study her face as it relaxes and brightens. Played out against a white dividing curtain, Williams’ rich dialogue, with all its pathos, humour and warmth, is foregrounded.

As Amanda, Deborah Findlay is sturdier than the mother described by Williams and she uses this as an advantage. Decked out in the lace and sparkle of her cotillion dress, she captures some of the poignant absurdity of this middle aged woman giggling and flirting with abandon, but she also captures her fierce maternal spirit, her nous (women, she declares as she buttons Laura into a hill of frills and ribbon, are “pretty traps”) and her determination to provide a secure future for her daughter.

In the publicity material Sinead Matthews’ Laura is shown with glorious, almost white blonde hair, but in the production itself, she is saddled with a mousy, lumpy wig and her performance sometimes seems like a collection of tics – a limp, a (not always convincing) stutter – her fragility more external than internal, but this changes as the play progresses. When Jim arrives Laura emerges as a person: brave, funny and self-knowing.

Leo Bill is angular and aggressive as Tom, the shoebox Shakespeare longing for escape; his frustration with his lot is evident even in the rapid, ravenous way in which he eats. Kyle Soller, given permission by the text to be ‘a nice ordinary young man’, is charming and self-confident as Jim, his performance less heightened than the others, his character vain but not unperceptive and not unkind, a man not unfamiliar with disappointment.

Dominated by a smiling photo of the absent father in his army cap, Jeremy Herbert’s set is an inside-outside affair, combing fire escapes and raw brick walls with the trappings of the Wingfield apartment. The music is supplied live by a pianist and percussionist perched up on the gallery; the latter, appropriately, has a collection of glasses at his disposal. It is, however, the snippets of song coming from the dancehall across the street that have the biggest emotional impact. As Jim and Laura listen he asks her to dance with him and, after some hesitation, she gives in; she dances.

Reviewed for musicOMH

Monday, November 15, 2010

Charged at Soho Theatre

Founded thirty years ago, Clean Break is a theatre company that specialises in the staging of new writing intended to reflect the experiences of women whose lives have come in contact with the criminal justice system.

Their recent productions include plays by Chloe Moss and Lucy Kirkwood (the superb 
It Felt Empty..., so atmospherically staged at the Arcola) and their current project is particularly ambitious in scope, taking the form of six short plays, which have been grouped into two separate cycles to be staged in various spaces around Soho Theatre

As with similar theatrical collages some of the pieces are better realised than others, but while there is an inevitable bittiness and some of the pieces feel constrained, the interesting dramatic parallels between the plays and some strong acting go a good way towards remedying this.

The first of these triple bills features new work by Rebecca Pritchard, Winsome Pinnock and Chloe Moss, of which Pritchard’s play, Dream Pill, staged by Tessa Walker in the theatre’s basement restaurant is perhaps the most harrowing and unsettling. Written from the perspective of two young Nigerian girls, both under ten, the play wades into the ugly world of child prostitution. It’s potently performed by Danielle Vitalis and Samantha Pearl, both all too convincingly child-like in their movements and interactions, the former fixing her bright, questioning eyes on various audience members. In the context of the play, the noise from the bar above suddenly takes on an ominous air and the sight of Pearl tottering unsteadily up the stairs in ill-fitting heels is almost too much to take.

Chloe Moss’ Fatal Light is less unrelenting in its intensity but still capable of emotional rawness. Unfolding in reverse order, it tells the story of a young mother with mental health problems who ends up in prison and features another strong performance from Ashley McGuire as the stoic grandmother. It contains some intriguing dramatic seeds but it feels a bit thin in its current state, as if it could have been fleshed out further.

Winsome Pinnock’s Taken, performed in the theatre’s top floor studio space, is another cross-generational tale and one that provides an interesting counterpoint to Moss’ play. A twitchy young girl towing a pram turns up on recovering addict Della’s door claiming to be her daughter. Whereas the bonds between the women in Moss’ play were strong and the daughter’s mental health issues was slowly driving the family apart, in Pinnock’s play abandonment and substance abuse have taken their toll on the characters and memory is untrustworthy. Caroline Steinbeis’ production only partially brings out the play’s increasing dreamlike quality and the ambiguities of the text feel like they could have been made more of.

The second cycle features work by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, EV Crowe, and Sam Holcroft. Crowe, whose new full length play, Kin, opens at the Royal Court next week, focuses her attention on what it is to be a woman in today’s police force. InDoris Day, flatmates Anna and Daisy, both police women, have different coping strategies. The play examines the inherent contradictions of their situation. There’s the necessity of working as part of a team and all that entails, but there’s also the question of workplace sexism and whether this should be tolerated or challenged. This is where they differ, over the point on which it becomes necessary to raise one’s voice and risk the fallout. The play circles its subject, looking at it from several angles and providing a plausible sketch of what it is to be a woman in a male-dominated profession, but it feels rather hurried and abrupt. In a nice piece of continuity Emma Noakes who plays Daisy, also plays the consoling policewoman in Fatal Light.

Sam Holcroft’s Dancing Bears, a play about gang violence, also explores the idea of female solidarity in a macho culture. Track-suit clad with faces half hidden by hoods, the four female performers begin by playing young male gang member who swagger about the place (they are described in the text as ‘walking on hot coals’), forever shifting from foot to foot with a kind of itchy urgency. Then one by one these volatile young men peel of their hoodies to become young women, who tired of being misused and impregnated by the men around them, draw together, forming a gang of their own, only to begin to emulate the male behaviour that initially alienated them.

The central play of this second triple bill is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s That Almost Unnameable Lust, probably the most wholly satisfying piece of either cycle. The play is set in a women’s prison where a well-intentioned but na├»ve young writer tries to get the female inmates to open up and share their experiences with her. Elegantly written, with some subtle and moving passages, Lenkiewicz's play serves to crystallise something about theatre of this kind, about the whole exercise in fact, in the way it subtly interrogates the writer’s role, the inevitable impotence of the observer. Empathy only counts for so much.

While the plays have their individual weaknesses, viewed together they paint a compelling picture of a system that fails women on numerous levels (some alarming statistics were provided on suicide and self-harm rates in women’s prisons). Of the two cycles, the second has the edge but there's a lot to be said for seeing both if you can.

Reviewed for musicOMH

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Saturn Returns at the Finborough Theatre

Noah Haidle’s play revisits the same character at three pivotal moments in his life. Gustin Novak is first seen as a man of 88, comparatively sprightly and in good health for a man of his age, but desperately, desperately alone. His wife and daughter are long dead and he has to beg and cajole a young nursing assistant to spend time with him.

The title of the play refers to an astrological phenomenon involving the orbit of Saturn. Every 30 years or so the planet returns to the same position it was at during a person’s birth and, in doing so, it is meant to herald a major event in a person’s life, a test of character, an emotional upheaval.

Haidle uses this idea as jumping-off point from which to interlace scenes of the older Novak with those from two earlier points in his life, both as a young married man of 28 and as a middle-aged widower of 58.

The play, originally staged at the Lincoln Centre in New York in 2008, is infused with a sense of loss. The elderly Novak, living in a house crammed with memories, many of them painful, yearns for company. His middle-aged self is no less needy. He loves his daughter deeply, but their relationship is forever shadowed by the figure of her dead mother and his constant demands end up pushing her away. Even as a younger man Novak’s life is not free from tension; his wife, Loretta, is troubled by the absence of children in their marriage and hints at other losses, a sadness that dogs her days and makes the long hours at home without him tough to bear.

Both the writing and the performances of the actors playing Novak over the three periods of his life (Richard Evans, Nicholas Gecks and Christopher Harper) create a sense of consistency of character – they all perch on the floor in front of the armchair rather than sitting in it. Haidle’s use of echoes, of recurring phrases in the dialogue, is elegant and not overstated, but doesn’t quite compensate for the fact that, to be blunt, Novak, at all points in his life, is a bit of a shit. He’s needy, demanding, self-sabotaging and a teller of awful jokes. His repeated digs at fat women leave a sour taste and his quick, cruel tongue is a source of upset for both his wife and his daughter. He’s an alienating figure, for both the women in his life and, at times, the audience.

Lisa Caruccio Came plays the three female roles, wife, daughter and the young nurse (whose physical resemblance to the daughter is noted), with sensitivity and sure-footedness. On stage for all but the brief moments it takes to change costumes, she ably switches between the three, differentiating them while also suggesting a sense of cohesion in Novak’s relationship with each of these women, something underlined by the fact that the play text requires these three characters be played by the same performer.

The three actors playing Novak go some way to rendering this often spiky and difficult character palatable without ever completely defanging him. Gecks has perhaps the hardest task as the middle aged incarnation of the man, selfish and volatile, yet not without charm, his relationship with his daughter complicated by the pain he still feels at the loss of her mother and his own fear of being alone.

Andrew Lenson’s production for the Finborough is suitably intense, the emotional pitch of the piece building gradually as the three versions of Novak begin to share stage space and eventually start to interact; like small town American versions of Dickensian Christmas spirits they plead across the years with their other selves to act differently, to make other choices, but their voices go unheeded. While the tone of the writing is unfocused in places and Novak is a hard man to love, the cumulative effect of the piece is fairly potent and it succeeds as a study of need and the self-haunting of memory.

Reviewed for musicOMH

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Two-Character Play at Jermyn Street Theatre

Though at times elusive, The Two-Character Play is a pleasingly rich and layered piece. First performed in 1967 and rewritten and revised several times since, this rarely performed Tennessee Williams play meshes elements of Pirandello and Beckett’s Endgame with the gothic insularity of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and a measure of Williams’ own life experiences.

The play’s two characters, Felice and Clare, a brother and sister, are stuck in a chilly, seemingly abandoned theatre in some unspecified city. She is an actress, he a writer. Together they begin to perform their own two character play about another brother and sister, a reclusive pair living in a house in the Deep South surrounded by a wall of sunflowers.
Something ugly and bloody happened to their parents and now the siblings never go outside. The phone has been cut off and the mail is no longer delivered; local kids throw stones at their windows. The pair make half-hearted attempts to reengage with the world, but these always end in self-sabotage.

In one of the play’s more explicit moments, the characters agree that: “theatres are prisons to players and writers of plays.” The idea of insanity and imprisonment ribbons the text. They often speak of becoming 'lost' in the play, to the point that though the space they're performing in is cold, they are able to shed their coats and feel the warmth of a southern summer day. The lines between worlds are blurred.

Both sets of characters, the performers and the roles they inhabit, seem caught in a kind of limbo, forced to loop through the same scenes, never reaching a satisfying conclusion, repeating and repeating, cutting lines, re-writing, tweaking.

It’s easy to see why Williams was so fond of this play. The Two-Character Play is a poetic and elegant, circular and self-aware, containing reflections within reflections; there’s plenty of humour and warmth on display too, which serves to balance out the play’s more impenetrable moments. Gene David Kirk’s production successfully makes the case for it as an exciting, experimental piece of writing, rather than a limp, forgotten thing that’s been dusted down for the sake of it. His staging is incredibly atmospheric, and even when the text sometimes meanders, as it does in places, this necessary sense of intensity is sustained (though an interval - perhaps unnecessary in a play of this length - does threaten to scupper things).

The cast seem completely tuned in to the idiosyncratic rhythms of the text. Both performers ably switch between the two different realities of the piece, their accents deepening as they become submerged in the play within the play. Catherine Cusack is suitably fragile-looking yet not without humour as the twitchy, pill-popping sister while Paul McEwan has a kind of dishevelled dignity as Felice (which extends to his portrayal of the other brother, the one within the play), keeping an ever-watchful eye on his sister yet also clearly beset by his own anxieties.

The staging is simple yet effective. Alice Walkling’s set does double duty for both of the play’s realities and its half-finished, crumbling, cluttered feel is very much in keeping with the mood of the piece, while Kirk keeps a commendably solid grip on this, at times slippery, play right until the end when, as it nears its finish, the lighting is slowly dimmed and the world of the characters is narrowed further until they are finally trapped together in a single spotlight.

Reviewed for musicOMH

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Novecento at Trafalgar Studios

The complex intertwining of music and myth inherent in the lives of so many famous jazz musicians of the past forms the heart of this second in the Donmar Warehouse’s season of plays of at the Trafalgar Studios, a monologue by Alessandro Baricco, Italian author of the fable-like Silk.

The prodigiously named Danny Boodmann T D Lemon Novecento was abandoned as a baby, left in a lemon crate aboard a transatlantic ocean liner. Named (in part) for the new century into which he was born, the foundling grows up on board the ship and never sets foot upon land. For him the ocean is home, bordered by docks and ports, while land is limitless and terrifying, land is the there-be-monsters place of nightmares.

Though he never receives a lesson, Novecento turns out to be a supremely gifted pianist, entertaining the passengers in steerage with his hypnotic music. He becomes the stuff of legend, as both an ocean-bound eccentric and a God-given jazz innovator; talk spreads far and wide about his music and people even travel in third class for the sole purpose of hearing him play.

Novecento’s story is narrated by his friend, the trumpeter Tim Tooney. His delivery is feverish and hip flask-fuelled as he relives the years they spent at sea together. Mark Bonnar’s performance is energetic and animated, sweaty and intense, and conveys a strong sense that this is a tale that has grown as it’s been retold (and retold and retold). There’s a loose-collared, bar room vibe to his narration that doesn’t detract from the magic but does underline it with doubt. The love for his friend and the hold that the past has on him have coloured his story and allowed it to fly.

This storytelling reaches its peak as Tooney describes a jazz duel between Novecento and the incredulous and over-confident Jelly Roll Morton, self-styled sire of jazz, with the two pianists trading increasingly complex riffs. There’s a similarly glorious moment where Tooney and Novocento ride a piano back and forth across the ship’s parquet ballroom floor during a storm, with Novecento playing the whole way. Only in the last twenty minutes or so does the writing lose its grip. The finale is baggy and melodramatic when compared to what has gone before.

Novecento’s phenomenal playing remains, of course, unheard, limited to Tooney's descriptions of its brilliance - his playing, we are told, is ‘impossible’, untethered to the ‘normal notes’ - but the production is not free of music, far from it - a dream-like lilt underscores the whole piece.

Paul Wills’ set, in its use of muted colours, feels in keeping with the Donmar’s familiar visual palette, while his use of riveted metal, dangling chains and copper piping evokes the clanking belly of the ship. Those rippling chains simultaneously give a sense of being on deck with the ocean beyond, a sense enhanced by Paul Keogan’s softly shifting lighting.

Director Roisin McBrinn, whose work this season was, in part, designed to showcase, knows how to handle a monologue, how to bring texture and pace to the text; she previously directed Mark O'Rowe’s ink-black triptych, Crestfall, at Theatre 503 and this piece achieves similar glimmers of intensity. Bonnar’s performance, while very big, very physical, in his gestures and delivery (clambering about on the set, hurling himself to the floor as he describes a storm) is also deceptively controlled. There’s a line that he observes and only on a couple of occasions does it feel as if he was overplaying things; again these moments were towards the end when the piece began to unravel and never quite righted itself.

Reviewed for musicOMH