Rubber Dinghy

Tue 28th February – Sat 3rd March 2012

reviews

JY Hoh

at 22:29 on 28th Feb 2012

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Whenever I go to review shows I occasionally find myself distracted from the scenes playing out in front of me in order to note a particularly jarring mistake or to jot down some words of praise for an actor's performance. With 'Rubber Dinghy', there was no such diversion. Combining a script as taut as a drum, directorial focus of remarkable confidence and clarity, and two electrifying central performances, this thirty minute bombshell is a masterclass in creating short theatre that is both intense and effective.

A play like 'Rubber Dinghy' could have very easily gone awry, but director Ben Cohen's steady hand not only avoids any potential potholes, but steers the production with style and verve. Consider its premise - two men sit in a rubber dinghy at sea and talk about their past lives. This could have degenerated into a static snooze-fest with two actors trying futilely to spark intensity in a stale environment; Cohen averts this by using both light and sound expertly to immerse the audience in a rich and lively atmosphere. Sound director Nathan Klein sits in the background using clever layering of different sounds and musical instruments to recreate the aural experience of being at high sea. From the usage of a faint murmuring to approximate the sound of the lapping waves to the blowing of a huge trumpet to announce the arrival of a large ship, Klein's choices achieve their desired effect without fail. Special mention must be made of the Mermaid character (Eleanor Budge), who serves to remind the two men of their loved ones. With a haunting song performed in a caramel voice that is part seraph part nightclub singer, Budge provides the perfect underscore to the main characters' longing for their distant loves. Cohen's usage of lighting is similarly adept. His choices manage to be economical yet striking, with a faint blue for the ocean, a deeper and more mysterious shade of azure to complement the mermaid's song, and flashes of red for the bursts of a flare gun. The ultimate effect of Cohen's adroit manipulation of the theatrical tools at his disposal is to give the production considerable depth. Two actors sitting on a bare stage talking to each other would have been a flat, two-dimensional affair. Instead, Cohen's actors exist in an organic performance space that supplements the central action and dialogue with creative lighting and sound-work that manages to evoke memory and emotion, offering the audience a wide range of ways in which they may experience and be stimulated by the story.

The main actors and the scriptwriter are to be no less applauded for their contribution to the production. Kelvin Fawldrey's whip-smart script is contained and streamlined, telling the story of David (Edwin Price) and Seth (Alexander Bowsher), two bankers adrift at sea. Both Price and Bowsher show off impressive talent here, succeeding in igniting and sustaining intensity from the very first line spoken. Price as the tortured David is faced with a difficult task; he does not have the luxury a longer play might afford him to build sympathy for his character's angst, and must be instantly convincing or lose his audience. In the face of this challenge, Price acquits himself quite magnificently, using a powerful voice and vivid facial and bodily expressions to communicate anguish to the point of insanity. Bowsher as the antagonistic Seth dons a fox-like sneer to go with his bullying, razor-sharp voice, and acts a more measured and cunning foil to the unhinged David. I was particularly impressed by Price's ability to transition from his character’s staple of lunatic screaming to a monotonous drone during a segment where Bowsher interrogates his character on the details of an identity David is reluctant to adopt, and Bowsher's outburst as a man who has had enough of his fellow stowaway's behaviour is equally deserving of praise. Price and Bowsher owe much to writer Falwdrey, however, for writing a script that gives them the dramatic room to show off their potential. Fawldrey's script shows clear awareness of pacing, ensuring that its characters have just enough moments of reminiscing to grant them emotional depth while managing to keep the action current, and drops enough hints about the back-story leading up to the events of the play to give the audience a sufficiently clear picture of the characters' motivations. Fawldrey also manages to tie up the story with an ending which does not completely stink, a common problem in short play-scripts. It is easy to see why 'Rubber Dinghy' was singled out by the judges of the New Writing Festival, and Price and Bowsher's riveting performances combine with Fawldrey's crackerjack script to tell a powerful and compelling story.

One criticism that needs to be made, however, is that the last few seconds of 'Rubber Dinghy' were somewhat mishandled. The elevated angle at which Price held the tool he was wielding made his intentions unclear, and Bowsher's last line was spoken too quickly and cut off too abruptly by the blackout, which bewildered me further. The final lines of the play as spoken by Klein helped to cure my confusion, but the lack of clarity in its concluding scene nevertheless resulted in an unnecessary delay of the ending's emotional impact. This flaw, however, is a solitary weakness amid a veritable ocean of merit. Masterful direction, a tight script and passionate performances make for an unforgettable half hour. See this production, and you will not regret it.

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