New writing is always a bit of a risk, not least for the brave creatives who put their work forward. Understandably, not all offerings land and this piece, a coming-of-age story and a tale of life in a fishing community, flounders.
Writer Natasha Kaeda has her heroine, Julie, move to the city while childhood sweetheart Simon tries to continue the family tradition of being a fisherman. The romance is sweet enough and initially there are some nice touches about growing up near the sea. But the stakes seem too low for their author and elements of allegory, politics and the environment are flirted with.
Unfortunately, none of these additions convinces and the delivery from Jack Brownridge-Kelly and Jenny Walser isn’t confident enough to save the day. With a style that’s vaguely declamatory, and some uneven accents, director Tash Hyman needs more guidance for the cast and more ideas about how to deal with the traverse staging.
There are moments when the ocean of the title feels like a real presence that show Kaeda has promise. But her talents are submerged in confused dead ends. An interesting idea of ‘sea people’ desperately needs developing. And there’s too much stumbling over details – I was confused as to when the play was set (when did people last leave school at 15?). And a bizarre nostalgic feel needs further explication: does Simon really believe his industry should carry on unchanged? Especially when he has recounted (too often) how things are different now.
Sad to say, things get worse. Far more care needs to be taken with an ending that includes a desperate act. As the festival’s content warning points out, the show has an ‘abstract reference to suicide’ but – while I am sure it is not the intention – the handling of the subject is so brief that it could be described as glib. Reactions to events certainly need more explaining in order not to appear horribly dismissive. Overall, the impression is of a piece that doesn’t know what it wants to do, stumbling into clichés, over reaching and running out of time as result. Kaeda casts her net wide, hinting at too much, and ends up catching nothing.
Until 9 February 2020
Illustration by Madison Clare