… the hypnotic, woozy tempo is shattered in a fabulous bit of final violence
Blue Devil Productions
Written and directed by Ross Dinwiddy
Adapted from The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad
New Writing South Best New Play Award 2019 Shortlist
Sounds of the sea from the start and throughout the play are a constant subtle reminder that we’re aboard a merchant vessel, becalmed somewhere in the East. It’s a hot night and the Captain’s alone on deck as a mysterious fugitive swims out of the darkness …
There’s a working wheel, wreathed in sea mist. While placed at the front it sometimes obscures the actors, it’s a solid thing of wood and brass beauty that together with lit lanterns clearly set the scene. There are sails involved, so we’re probably somewhere in the nineteenth century.
John Black’s cultured young captain Hotson in pristine silk pyjamas is something of a oddity to his crew, staunchly represented by an entertaining double act, Robert Cohen as seasoned old hand Skeres and Ben Baeza as cheeky and presuming young Frizer.
Gareth Wildig is dangerously charming as fugitive Leggatt, whose erudite tale of murder is captivating and enigmatic, and the inexperienced Hotson soon falls under his spell.
Ma Gwen’s a forceful steampunk presence in a great cameo by Christine Kempell, striding on board in pursuit of her murderous escapee as a teetotal Welsh force of nature.
The most minor notes – a few overlong scene changes moving furniture about and the generally measured pace mean the play can feel just a little longer than it needs to be.
A crisis hits in the last moments as the wind picks up and the hypnotic, woozy tempo is shattered in a fabulous bit of final violence. Director and cast deliver some terrific fighting; nasty, desperate punching, wrestling and chucking themselves and each other around, as the stranger slips into the ocean and out of the tale.
The writing’s formal, showcasing its literary origins, an ancient mariner spinning his mesmerising tale, and it works – we’re as intrigued as Hotson, whose finds his true nature and command in the closing moments.
Sensitively portrayed love scenes and fleeting nudity in Blue Devil’s trademark matter of fact style.
The Rialto until the 25th May
The play transfers to London in August