BARBICAN THEATRE – 28 FEBRUARY 2020 TOUR TILL 29 FEBRUARY 2020
THE COASTGUARD by Marie Macneill
RUNNING TIME – 1 Hour 40 minutes – 1 interval
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 28 FEBRUARY 2020
Amidst the glossy musicals, the gender-fluid productions of Shakespeare and the avant-garde diatribes it is good to know that out there, tucked away, is some excellent, honest theatre. It is a relief, a surprise and a joy.
The Coastguard by Marie Macneill and presented by Mundic Nation is a vivid, beautifully written and compellingly performed one-man play about coping with loss and life and is a theatrical treat.
Peter has reached 60 and, at the same time been forced to retire from his job as a coastguard along a stretch of his beloved Cornwall. As he narrates his life, as it is, as it was and, maybe as it will be, he constantly defers to Mary, his wife, who appears to be behind the locked blue door in his sea-battered clifftop cottage. It soon becomes apparent that Mary is now a memory; once the glue that held Peter together and at this pivotal moment in his life he is seeking her blessing, her forgiveness, her permission to move on.
Peter’s narrative is punctuated with song, dance and quotes from his beloved Shakespeare – a would-be thespian he reels off speeches by the Bard; particularly from King Lear. A raging storm, a money-grabbing relative, a beloved daughter, a ‘kingdom’ lost, a man on the edge – some of the parallels with the great play – The Coastguard is even written in five acts. So, as a storm comes and go outside, so Peter’s life boils over and, without ever saying so, the audience’s fears are realised; a moment of quiet devastation.
Marie Macneill’s, largely verse, play, is exquisite: full of elegiac visuals and quirky comedy; rhythmic and heartfelt. As the wind blows and the sea blasts the coastline, so the verse ebbs and flows, taking the audience with it. I doubt I will hear more lucid and beautiful writing for the stage this year.
As Peter, John Macneill creates a wonderfully engaging character, whether rampaging about student debt or city fat cats, re-creating scenes from ‘Casablanca’, performing the ‘sand dance’ with a tea towel or delivering Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech. Despite his happy-go-lucky exterior, the layers are gradually stripped back until the rawness of his loss creates a rush of emotion which created the loudest silence in an audience I have heard in a long time. A well-balanced, insightful and endearing performance of great skill.
The Coastguard is a love story of a man for his family (except his son-in-law), his life and his surroundings in Cornwall. As the pressures of the modern world, and family ties get to him, he finally sheds the final layer which allows him the freedom to do what he wants, what he and Mary wanted, thus fulfilling their own desires and ambitions. It is a cathartic moment and almost made one want to cheer.
With a delightfully realised set; the rustic, dilapidated cottage; full of memories (what is the precious treasure in the box?) and character, and a well-judged soundscape which acts as a counterpoint to the progress of Peter’s story; this is a quiet production which shouts loudly about life and which speaks the words which many will identify with. Marie Macneill directs her own play with restraint and without fuss creating a fluidity and ease of presentation which never detracts from the script or acting.
The Coastguard is a rich, superbly crafted piece of theatre with a tour-de-force performance; it will live long in the memory.
PETER – JOHN MCNEILL
VOICES – EMMA LLOYD-COWELL & KEITH SPARROW
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY MARIE MACNEILL
LIGHTING DESIGN – PAUL JOINES
SET DESIGN – RYAN HOLLYWOOD
SOUND DESIGN – HANNAH MACNEILL
A MUNDIC NATION PRODUCTION