Some reviews start with a memory: four years ago, at the Bush Library – an open space with stacks of books all over, the same space occupied by the Bush Theatre today, expect without walls, or proper seating or playtexts for wallpaper in the toilets – I saw Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall. I remember entering and two things were worth noting: even though it was ten minutes before the start, Andrew Scott was already pacing on stage and Ben Whishaw was in the audience. And then it started. And many more things were worth noting and remembering and in the end it went down as one of my best (distinct, powerful) experiences at the theatre.
How does the production at the Shed compare with that memory? On the minus side, I knew what was coming (whatever you do, don’t read spoilers). On the plus side, I knew what was coming (somewhere in the first ten minutes, my heart started pounding while the story was about packing for holidays and travel arrangements). Which is the genius of Simon Stephens’ text, and Andrew Scott’s performance and George Perrin’s direction: it’s artful and skilled in not being artful at all, playing out as real life, when a split second of a moment, without an explanation or a calling card or a lesson, punches you in the stomach and leaves you drowning and unable to make sense of anything for the rest of your life.
In other words, these thirty minutes of theatre are a triumph. Andrew Scott, supple and charismatic, takes Simon Stephens’ words – all colour and senses – and transforms them to a tangible place, where heaven and hell exist often at the same time. The play is also an exorcism: think long and hard about tragedy, make it real, don’t be flippant about it and it won’t come near. Except it does. For some people.
As with the Bush library so many years ago, when we entered the Shed, Andrew Scott was already on stage pacing. These ten minutes before the start, a strange place where the performance may or may not have started, are as important as anything that comes afterwards. Unnerving and tense, although not unpleasant, it sets the tone perfectly: this is a play that doesn’t want to be a play and it succeeds. Maybe it’s not a performance at all, maybe it’s real life and the only thing preventing it from spilling over to the real world is the four walls of the auditorium. The magic of theatre, heh?
revstan shares her thoughts here.
Update 29/07/2013: I forgot to highlight there is a filmed version of the piece, available to download for £3.50. Watch if you can’t see the staged version, or watch after you have seen the staged version.