Carla van der Sluijs, Theatre editor, reviews To The Ocean by BlackBox devising company, which was intriguingly staged at the Harbour Café in St Andrews.
To The Ocean by BlackBox Devising Company explored the painful truths revealed once the smoke of childhood fantasy clears. In this charming yet slow-moving story, Jim, a troubled father, fabricates a tale to his young daughter, Grace, to explain why her mother has left. Unable to relive the end of his marriage, he successfully convinces Grace that her mother became a selkie to save him from a vicious storm, but cannot yet return to her human form. However, as Grace grows older, she uncovers the truth behind the magic and, with her best friend, Anna, embarks on a dangerous journey to tackle unanswered questions.
To The Ocean launched with touching and powerful emotions, stemming from the pressures of the parent’s splintered marriage. Sadly, this impact did not continue for the rest of the production. Conversations between Grace and Anna seemed dragged out in an excessive attention to naturalism, which caused their journey to move at a plodding place. In particular, a ‘goat’ joke involving an audience member felt extremely overplayed. Though energy was regained once the story hit the emotional climax, the play still felt quite subdued overall. Perhaps flashbacks to the marital strain could have been slotted into the girls’ travels to maintain more consistent intensity.
Packed shoulder to shoulder, an audience of fifteen really was the maximum that could fit comfortably in the Harbour Café. Black Box would have struggled to find a smaller stage in St Andrews. Despite these obvious limitations, there was never a moment where the production felt claustrophobic or reined in. The action slotted seamlessly into the tiny space. Miniature lamps that were moved across the floor provided a smooth and subtle divide between scenes whilst live sound effects contributed an additionally rustic feel to this raw production.
Bailey Fear as Jim gave a heart-breaking portrayal of a father’s struggle. Narration was Bailey’s real strength as he enthrallingly drew the audience into Grace’s story. This was something unfortunately lacking by Isabel Dollar as Shonagh, Grace’s mum. Though her opening monologues delivered the frustration required of her character, they sometimes felt addressed to a larger audience and lacked the intimacy demanded by a small space. Furthermore, her long coat of stiff fabric seemed to somewhat hinder her movement, which was disappointing when she clearly had more to offer the performance. Ana Fati as Ana ignited the stage with spark and energy that cleverly hinted at a vulnerability to her character. Her onstage bestie Grace, played by Grace Thorner, managed to adopt a believable innocence that never became contrived or irritating.
Although an inconsistent script diminishes the magic, To The Ocean is an enjoyable and original piece of theatre. This show brims with potential and I hope that, with their talented cast, BlackBox are able to develop it further ahead of their tour.
STARS: * * *
Carla van der Sluijs