saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Into the Deep
20th August 2018
Photography provided by Popcorn Productions
Fisherman Thomas (Ed Lees) lives with his children, Carla (Polly Wain) and Marlon (Ned Costello) in rural Cornwall. With a handful of average O Levels and a reluctance to venture further afield than his hometown, it was perhaps inevitable that he was always going to join the family business, following in the footsteps of his father, William (Chris Alldridge). The relationships between the three generations of men are fractured, as is the timeline, with Into the Deep told in a non-linear way.
The opening is interesting, with director Layla Madanat fast-forwarding us from Thomas's childhood to the present day with speedily-paced action in a half-light and ever-changing pop songs and news sound clips. She successfully plants us in the present day and hints at the time-hopping to follow. The deeply dysfunctional family unit and their setting provide us with an intriguing context, but there is a case to say that the focus of Lees' script could be clearer. Is it primarily intended to unpick the toxic relationship between Thomas and his father, which seems destined to be repeated between Thomas and Marlon? Is it about the complex relationship that all sailors have with the ocean? Or is it about PTSD? There are lots of different ideas swimming in this play and ultimately, there is a feeling that the storyline is rather crowded with competing themes.
There are many moments where expanding upon what's presented could add so much more credibility to the story. Carla serves as a useful tool to showcase Marlon's softer, protective side, though this seems to come at the expense of fully developing her as a character in her own right. She's the only female protagonist in the play, though all we really see in terms of depth is a little bit of cheek from her as she exchanges banter with her brother, and her grandfather pointing out that she is very much like her mother. Her relationship with her grandfather is strained enough to give the impression of a considerable backstory between the two of them, or possibly between her mother and her grandfather - something greater than a simple clash or a falling-out - yet the opportunity to explore this further is passed up. When she confronts her grandfather again, this tension seems to have vanished, though there is nothing to suggest that the reasons for it have been tackled. Even allowing for the non-linear nature of the story, which inevitably requires the audience to fill in certain gaps, it would feel much more complete if that conflict and its subsequent resolution were explained. Further, whilst having the two protagonists in the same space may be outside her control, she appears to have accepted it rather easily, and it doesn't entirely make sense that she would have done so.
When Carla starts imagining things, we wonder whether this is a side effect of some awful, unspoken trauma that has personally affected her, but again, we don't know what could have triggered this state of mind. We're also left to wonder whether her mother suffered from similarly poor mental health and whether that's the reason she met with a tragic ending. Similarly, there is an intriguing gap in terms of what happened to the grandmother. This all matters because addressing these unanswered questions would provide a much-needed context for the fragile family bonds we see. It is possible that Lees wanted to elaborate on all these points but there simply wasn't enough run-time to allow for it, which brings us back to the problem of an overcrowded storyline - perhaps the answer is to have less going on, but more depth to what remains?
All this contributes to a somewhat confusing and underwhelming ending. Madanat's initially clever use of flashbacks becomes increasingly unclear, leaving a slightly stunned audience unsure whether the play is over, which raises questions about the effectiveness of both this technique and the complicated nature of Lees' storyline. There needs to be more of an ending - although we get conflict, we don't get a satisfying resolution. It might even be more natural to pause the story earlier, but leave it with more ambiguity. There are plenty of question marks that could be raised over each character's future and in many ways, it would be more thought-provoking to leave us to wonder whether any of the family members were capable of freeing themselves from the inevitability of their history. This is what I felt the company should leave us with.
There are elements to this storyline that are intriguing. Rather than concentrate solely on the toxic relationship between Thomas and his father, I'd like to see more of the men's relationship with the water. We see hints of Tommy's dislike of the business and why he might be trapped. However, the script doesn't tackle his connection with the sea. Fishing never just runs in generations because it's a job; there's always a pull between man and the ocean - a respect for the waters. We could have just as difficult a relationship between the men whilst still writing in a credible link between them and the sea. As for Carla, if there is no big reveal between the girl and her grandfather, the tension needs to be downgraded to that of an ordinary family with ordinary problems.
Despite the above points, I did enjoy this play. Into the Deep is certainly an ambitious production and that makes for a very watchable 60 minutes. However, I can see a much stronger play treading water beneath the surface and it would be really worth the company taking the time to reach down and pull it out. They are trying to tackle some very big ideas, which is admirable, but the breadth of what they're trying to cover means they just don't - or can't - go deep enough.
Into the Deep opened on 20th August and runs until 23rd August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.
Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)