Sea Creatures by Cordelia Lynn. Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 to 29 April 2023. 3***. William Russell.

Too clever by half at times Sea Creatures has been imaginatively staged by director James MacDonald and gets fine performances from a first rate cast led by Geraldine Alexander but it is a long and frequently puzzling affair. Looking at one’s watch time – it runs for nearly two hours without an interval – eventually arrives. Four women are living in a holiday cottage by the sea. They are Shirley (Geraldine Alexander), an academic allegedly writing a thesis but clearly doing nothing of the sort, her partner Sarah (Thusitha Jayasundera), and Shirley’s daughters George (Pearl Chandha) who is pregnant and Toni (Grace Saif), who looks like a teenager but is actually a 23-year-old burying herself in a lost adolescence. Missing is her daughter Robin who has disappeared. Robin’s lover Mark (Tom Mothersdale) turns up and is allowed to stay. We watch the family sit at the kitchen table, drink coffee, prepare meals at the kitchen console, go out to sit at a table outside overlooking the sea – the piece is performed traverse fashion – and slowly get told about losses at sea, Shirley’s fisherman father, and the tales of selkies, those mythical creatures once seals who are brought to land, deprived of their skin, and turn into beautiful women held captive. In other words there is a lot going on but oh so slowly punctuated by some superb lighting and sound effects of crashing waves and the sudden darkness of a storm as very slowly the four women come to the end of the holiday and leave Mark behind. At the end he heads for the sea – maybe to find the lost Robin or another selkie. The world of myth and the lives of the women are inextricable mixed together and the play exercises a considerable spell and the arrival of an old woman (June Watson) who claims to be looking for her skin brings myth and reality – she is demented – together powerfully although just why Toni is lost in false adolescence is never explained and in spite of a beguiling performance by Grace Saif she ends up more irritating than intriguing. The set looks like it is somewhere buried under the sea, creatures from the deep crawl across the floor from time to time to disturbing effect, but in spite of the feeling of loss, of grief, one never really cares about any of them as real people although the myth of the selkies forever seeking freedom and their stolen skins is fascinating. But it is all too contrived, too bewildering to sustain one’s interest throughout. Worth catching though as it is like nothing you will have seen before.

Shirley: Geraldine Alexander.

George: Pearl Chanda.

Sarah: Thusitha Jayasundera.

Mark: Tom Motherdale.

Toni: Grace Saif.

Fred the Fisherman: Tony Turner.

Old Woman: June Watson.

Director: James Macdonald.

Designer: Zoe Hurwitz.

Lighting: Jack Knowles.

Sound: Max Pappenheim.

Production Photographs: Marc Brenner.

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