David Trimble reviews
Near the beginning of the second act of the Anthony Tudor Funded Seascape with Sharks and Dancer, co-directed by and starring Louis Catliff and Brianna Chu, Ben (Catliff) says ‘I thought this used to be a conversation’. Responding to Tracy (Chu) who is refusing to speak, it encompasses the strengths of this production about the fragility and turbulence of human relationship. It takes two to have a conversation and this production discussed wonderfully the variety of interactions between a couple and the importance of communication.
The play, written by Don Nigro, is described in the programme as a ‘highly criticized and highly controversial piece of work that has failed onstage more times than it has succeeded.’ It is therefore a testament to the actors and production team that, despite their own disclaimer against the play, it actually does work. The thing that works against them unfortunately is a script that often does not know exactly what it wants to do. Even by the end of the first act it was unclear what sort of play Seascape was intending to be. There are a lot of metaphors bandied about which, although interesting to think through, often only serve to confuse, especially when most of them are dropped and not returned to after the first act.
The first act began shakily with the actors sometimes seeming a little too comfortable in each others’ presence for having only just met, and some of the interactions tended towards the obviously ‘stagy’ in episodes of more lighthearted dialogue. The momentum picked up in the second act with Catliff and Chu able to capitalise on the tension in the script and milking it for all its worth. What had been lighthearted conversation descended into a bleak tale of conflicting moralities with no real escape or answer provided. It was in these bleaker moments that the production excelled the most. In fact, better parts of the first act were at their most engaging when the couple’s jovial spirit was accompanied by darker undertones. We laughed at Tracy calling Ben a eunuch, but not after she reasons it by the fact he didn’t rape her whilst she was unconscious.
It goes without saying that the one thing that kept the momentum of the production going was the wonderful dynamic between the two leads. After the intermission Catliff and Chu were in full swing and any staginess had been done away with. Their relationship was believable, their interactions beautiful and painful. And when the conversation did stop, their command of silence carried the weight of their fragile relationship; the audience could feel the tide of impending collapse. Possibly the most poignant image of Seascape was Tracy shouting and throwing books at deathly silent Ben. The stage was divided up by the two personalities physically as well as emotionally creating a contrast between two distinct individuals and two markedly different approaches to life and morality. It is at moments like this, when the play feels like real interactions rather than scripted, that it succeeds and rises above the script’s heavy handed metaphors about sharks.
In a play preoccupied with conflicting characters and morality we are left with an altogether bleak statement that leaves little room for hope. In a play about the beginning and breakdown of conversation between two people who think they love each other, we are left with only silence. Catliff and Chu have done a remarkable job with a relatively challenging source.
Featured image from: Seascape with Sharks and Dancer