Thursday, 25 October 2012

Drowning Rock- review

Written by: Stanley Eldridge (@StanleyEldridge)

Camden People's Theatre

Camden People’s Theatre describes Drowning Rock as ‘‘The Woman in Black meets Jaws’’. I can’t help thinking of this idea being spawned from Michael Bay’s laboratory of failed Hollywood ideas. I half expected Will Smith to play the Victorian fisherman who defeats the ghostly lace doily sharks by blowing them up with a trout bomb. Munch munch, popcorn popcorn. Ambitious, eh?  

This piece, written and directed by Matthew Wood, is just that; especially when one realises what little space, set and lack of Will Smith he has to work with. Immediately calming yet unnerving noises of the deep wash over us, gulls swoop and an epic tale of a father’s haunted trip to Drowning Rock begins.

Andrew O’Donoghue as Harker is investigating the spooky Cornish islands where many a shipwreck has laid their souls to rest. Events take a spooky diversion as Hawker delves further into the curious link between his history and the rock. An apparition soon begins haunting him, his dreams, or both: this was unclear. However, O’Donoghue’s fumble of his torchlight, falling inch perfect on the slimy, seaweed-bedraggled face of his spectre certainly was clear; and some much-needed excitement was injected. Lights, projections and ominous whispers of the deep magnificently continued in decorating proceedings with a murky terror. Wood fails to capitalise.
Shifts of character and space are unclear and often the space and scruffy blocking strangle the performers’ physicality, which seem to be rushing to be released. Plot points are thrown around with such frequent veracity that at times Wood’s writing felt like a checklist of needless spooky fisherman serotypes. Inspiration from HP Lovencraft’s terrifying work isn’t a licence to over complicate.
Despite this the organic interchanges between Hawker and his guides, salty sea dog Roper (John Gregor) and the silent simpleton Jim, were a joy to behold. What a shame then that the literally fish out of water moments over brandy and O’Donoghue’s poignant moments of still silence are so frustratingly overlooked. Instead, the climax of the story dissolves into a cheap ghost train.

So how did my attention remain for an hour and forty-five minutes whilst the maelstrom of plot dragged me out to sea? The simple answer is the company pulled off the silliness with aplomb. Gregor as Roper, with his shark-black eyes, darted from friendly hospitality to disarming stillness with silky ease. JP Lord won the audience with his silent performance of Jim. Abby Blears does what she can with her limited role but is often confined to darting from the one wing to scare us before scuttling back. It is sad that the cast’s wonderful performance only went to show just how haphazardly the material had been compiled.

The shocks are all there, often bursting a vein to make us gasp. But the convoluted plot detracts from any sympathies we otherwise would have inevitably built with O’Donoghue’s pitch perfect protagonist. Even Michael Bay might think twice. Now that’s saying something. 

This production runs until 4 November 2012. 

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Anonymous said...

With all due respect to the author of this review I completely disagree that the writing of this play was either haphazard or a "checklist of needless spooky serotypes." Yes the plot was complicated - this was a nod to intelligent theatre-goers as the show was not written and produced with necessarily a mainstream audience in mind. I agree that the actors where fantastic and the comments as to their acting ability are spot on - each actor brings his/her own wonderful interpretation of their roles to the stage. However I would say that it is exceptionally difficult for even the best actors to keep you amused if the writing and direction are not there to show these abilities off, again highlighting that I think your assessment of the writing level to be way off. The author of the above review obviously didnt get behind the idea of the show (this is clear from the opening line of the review), and doesnt appreciate that this play was aimed at people who appreciate a story line and twisting plot. I would keep this in mind and not let it influence your opinion of the show - if you like the idea of the play you will most likely enjoy the production.

Stanley Eldridge said...

I won't argue with you. But I will say that when a show is listed as a splicing of two very mainstream, very popular things I do somewhat expect it to have a mainstream audience in mind. And as to not being open to the idea of the show, on the contrary. I was very open. I felt the performance displayed some promise yet I felt that this was largely down to the grace with which the performers held themselves and the well executed effects. In my view the direction and over-complicated writing let down what could have been a very good, very scary, very climactic show. Instead I personally felt underwhelmed.

However, I appreciate your comment. It displays a very passionate tone concerning theatre. In future, if you ever wish to display this passion in a review yourself rather than in discrediting others' work, I'd encourage you to visit this website or those like it. This one in particular offers many avenues to express views on shows you have seen, enjoyed or feel compelled to write 210 words about.

Thanks again