THE SEA PLAYS To 18 February.


Bound East for Cardiff, In the Zone, The Long Voyage Home
by Eugene O’Neill.

The Old Vic Tunnels Station Approach Road SE1 8SW To 18 February 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 871 7628.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 February.

Well-grounded productions of plays about life at sea.
Some sea plays it might be called. Eugene O’Neill wrote other seafaring dramas beside these one-acters from his early days – the opening play here, Bound East for Cardiff, from 1914, was his first drama. It gives a sense of O’Neill’s vigorous language and readiness to descend into the darkness of human experience.

The play follows the impact of a sailor’s fall into his ship’s hold during a storm. Storms at sea were a speciality of H M Tomlinson’s novels, while O’Neill could bring the first-hand experience of working life aboard ship that Joseph Conrad brought to his novels. But there’s no-one to match him in dramatising the human possibilities of life below decks.

Perhaps it’s no surprise this first play also shows the weaker side of his writing in its straining and sentimentality. The Hollywood close-up with earnest acting and quiet, sad music isn’t far away.

Kenneth Hoyt’s production uses the Old Vic Tunnels, under Waterloo Station, to create a landlubber equivalent to the harsh, rough shipboard life. Flame-coloured lighting surrounds men stoking a furnace – shades of O’Neill’s later, full-length The Hairy Ape – outside the fit-up auditorium. Shapes and textures of the moveable set suggest cabins while swaying sections and water flying across the space help whip-up a storm.

The other two plays have more story interest. Though O’Neill was never likely to be expert with plot, he uses a single situation to build human emotions and tensions in relationships, with a strong sense of threatened innocence. In the Zone shows circumstantial evidence piling-up against a suspected wartime spy, ratcheted-up by fear U-boats may be about to torpedo the ship.

Most movingly, in the final piece, The Long Voyage Home, emotional directness overcomes any sense of predictability as an innocent Scandinavian sailor is shanghaied from a dockside pub onto the worst trader sailing the seas. Raymond M Sage gives him a cheerful, soft-spoken sympathy while Amanda Boxer injects a similar sympathy into the deception, somehow making Freda’s kindly manner and deceitfulness equally credible.

Carsten Hayes and Matthew Travannion are also notable among an energetic, atmospherically convincing crew.

Davis: Jordan Bernarde.
Freda: Amanda Boxer.
Captain: Mark Carter.
Mag: Lauren Garnham.
Nick: Ashley George.
Yank: Carsten Hayes.
Cocky: Gareth Kieran Jones.
Jack: Michael Norledge.
Scotty: Chris O’Shea.
Ivan: Kristian Phillips.
Olson: Raymond M Sage.
Paul: Vincent Santvoord.
Smitty: Matthew Thomas.
Kate: Eva Traynor.
Driscoll: Matthew Travannion.
Joe: Eddie Webber.

Director: Kenneth Hoyt.
Designer: Van Santvoord.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Sound: Alex Baranowski.
Movement: George Evans.
Costume: Spyros Koskinas.
Assistant director: Rosalind Howes.

2012-02-08 01:35:05

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