Sea Life, Hope Theatre

I always think life in a British seaside town must be idyllic. Quaint and friendly, with the smell of chips, ice cream and salt in the air, the sun always shines and people share a friendly smile as they pass families playing in the sand and surf.

I know the reality is completely different. Broken economies are driving young people away, there are instances of racism and small mindedness, as there are everywhere else inland. Lucy Catherine’s Sea Life, set near Dover, captures this stark reality with three disfunctional, adult siblings in a town that’s literally and figuratively falling into the sea. Roberta is the agoraphobic fantasist who runs the family’s bar that never has customers. Her inappropriately clingy twin Bob builds coffins to inter the local cemetery’s residents that must be cremated before the cliffside where they rest crumbles into the channel. Their lone wolf brother Eddie, a failed artist, is one of a team tasked with digging up the dead. Their long-dead mother’s looming reappearance, constant rain and an anonymous American company that’s taken over the town’s economy has pushed these three to a breaking point that results in poetic, disturbing tragedy of classical proportions that’s also really rather funny. 

Catherine’s script is full of punchy, ferocious dialogue, constantly pulled taut by Matthew Parker’s direction. The three characters have radically different ways of coping (or not coping) with their dead-end lives, causing a natural undercurrent of tension that regularly erupts. The storyline is wonderfully unpredictable and increasingly macabre, though never implausible. Catherine’s gift here is showing a scenario that both feels like a work of fiction, and something that could totally happen under the perfect combination of circumstances and personalities. A couple of false endings detract from what could otherwise be a brilliant script, but the cathartic ending keeps things from being excessively dark.

The trio of actors have good chemistry, particularly twins Roberta and Bob (Vicky Gaskin and Chris Levens) who are uncomfortably close. Jack Harding as Eddie is an extraordinary pressure cooker who’s explosion is satisfyingly horrific to take in. 

Laura Harling’s set design is a fantastically detailed example of the possibilities able to be achieved in a tiny performance space. There is some slightly cheesy movement work that could otherwise be communicated with sound and lighting, but this is brief and the overall visual effect certainly adds to the play’s truthfulness.

Sea Life is a polished little gem of a play, and an excellent showcase for actors and designers alike. It’s not perfect, but Catherine’s script and Parker’s direction are a near-perfect example of contemporary naturalism.

Sea Life runs through 11 June.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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Leftovers, Theatre N16

What would you do if the country was as war and under attack? Would you join up and fight? Or would you run? If you left, where would you go? 

Protagonist Elizabeth lives in London with her husband Harry, who she met whilst feeding the residents of her local duck pond. Their romance is a proper fairytale, until the war starts. Writer Gabrielle Sheppard goes on to reveal the impact of the war on Elizabeth and Harry, and simultaneously shows Elizabeth’s ideal life that could have unfolded without the looming threat of attack. It’s a clever, Sliding Doors-esque device from Sheppard, though the understandable inclusion of Elizabeth’s mental trauma muddies the narrative – what is real? What are her delusions? These parallel worlds often overlap and blur, adding to the confusion. But maybe that’s the point. The refugee experience is hardly one of calm and clarity, and the disorientation of the narrative and dialogue has potential to foster empathy and understanding. It could also alienate, with the production being written off as unclear and poorly written, but hopefully this is a less likely interpretation. Leftovers is an intuitive, short piece of theatre with the ability to pluck at the heartstrings and present refugees as human beings who feel love, pain and want safety for those they love the most.

Sheppard also plays Elizabeth, showing her journey from a young woman in love to a damaged vessel who has lost everything, with great nuance and pathos. She has lovely chemistry with Christopher Adams (Harry) and Ella Cook, who plays her dog and her grown daughter. 

Director Dimitris Chimonas incorporates movement sequences mainly composed of running on the spot. There’s some nice abstract, gestural work to add variation but the running is the focus. The metaphor is clear, and effectively transitions between the episodic scenes. The set, mountains of clothing, are physically obstructive but a nice representation of everything refugees have to abandon in favour of safety.

At under an hour, Leftovers feels like it has a lot more to say, with the potential of becoming a fully formed, epic love/war story. The concept is a sound one, but further clarity and lengthening wouldn’t go amiss.  The two producing companies, Hounded and Ugly Collective, are certainly worth keeping an eye on. 

Leftovers is now closed at Theatre N16.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.