by Tom Basden.
Arcola Tent 2 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL To 9 August 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 July.
Comedy turns serious as island life become characters’ world.
In Tom Basden’s play three members of a public-relations team are cast away on a desert island, along with a silent 16-year old. They are sole survivors of a ’plane crash and for the first scene or two, in a play which sustains each scene admirably, there’s a Neville’s Island feel to things.
In Tim Firth’ comedy, businessmen on a Lake District island for a bonding experience develop tensions and conflict. But when Basden’s characters attempt radio-contact they find they are part of a far wider disaster, and will have to survive alone.
Here the play comes to resemble a malign version of J M Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton. For there will be no return to the previous life and Barrie’s swift switch from a hierarchy based on character not birth is replaced by a more gradual power shift from quick-witted Gus’s dominant irony towards the stolid Ian. What develops is a grouping based on force of personality. And that force becomes increasingly self-deluded with consequences variously harmful and fatal.
Basden, and Philip Breen’s clear but never overstated production, pace the transition well. It’s strongly acted, Daniel Rigby showing Ian’s obtuse organisational skills gradually as Matthew Baynton’s Gus loses his early sparkle. Elizabeth Berrington gives Marie the only signs of hope, before Ian’s behaviour suppresses her, while Sharon Singh’s Erin shows as much through expression and manner as through words how the younger woman cannot avoid submission to Ian’s forceful demands.
In the Arcola Tent, (close to the main Arcola) with its central raised acting platform, summer conditions were only too apt for the characters’ sweltering experience, while designer Rhys Jarman showed even desert islands take on the character of those who land there. In later scenes the sandy floor is strewn with 21st-century consumer detritus.
As books become valuable in Ian’s mind only as practical guides to surviving and Gus descends into drunken weakness the hole these people’s lives and work have dug for themselves become more apparent, right to the final point when everyone is isolated and the cry of a baby sounds more futile than hopeful.
Gus: Matthew Baynton.
Ian: Daniel Rigby.
Marie: Elizabeth Berrington.
Erin: Sharon Singh.
Director: Philip Breen.
Designer: Rhys Jarman.
Lighting: Joshua Carr.
Sound: Andrea J Cox.
Associate director: Alexander Lass.