There’s a breaching of the ‘fourth wall’ within seconds of Boat, but it’s never followed through or properly explained, and therefore any possible implications are soon forgotten. I suppose it acted as an icebreaker, and a way of entering into this other world where the moon is allegedly on the sea bed and shells are like stars.
Boat is as bizarre as it sounds, and the wider implications of its narrative are not as hard-hitting as they could be as a result. As a piece of escapism, it ultimately comes up short: even under the sea there appears to be no hiding from domestic violence. Indeed, by the definition of its environment there is no escaping from it, no panic alarm that can be activated, no SOS text message that can be sent. It did make me question why this piece bothers going into another world, when there is so much injustice in our own world as it is that could be highlighted more effectively, without having professionally trained actors crawling or jumping about making supposed fish or bird noises.
There is, in places, more Spanish than West Side Story and In The Heights combined – assuming, of course, it was Spanish. Rather like the Bard’s plays, the limitations of what can be demonstrated theatrically are removed through suggestive dialogue. There is even a sort of Chorus, or a ‘Jellyfish of Sound’ (Jethro Cooke) – I know, I know, bear with me – keeping the audience abreast of exactly where we are in the narrative.
It is, my personal pragmatic cynicism aside, a highly creative and imaginative piece, which in hindsight provides more food for thought than one might have expected. More than one scene subtly and intelligently makes a distinction between stupidity and ignorance, suggesting that what Girl (Pia Laborde Noguez) perceives as truth just might need to be revised in the light of later acquired knowledge. Therefore, to continue to believe in something that has been proven false can have devastating consequences.
Girl grows up insofar as her knowledge expands, thanks to Twin (Cristina Catalina), Turtle (Matthew Coulton) and Gull (Gabriele Lombardo). Girl’s character development reflects elements of mature playwriting masked by the relatively juvenile personalities of Girl and Twin. A fundamental flaw in Girl’s persona is, however, never shaken off. Towards the end the show seems to run out of steam (or ocean current), particularly when Turtle rambles on, telling a long story, which, despite my best powers of concentration, I failed to fully keep up with. I wasn’t too enamoured by his lecturing nature either, and I hope it is not too harsh to say that perhaps his comeuppance is somewhat deserved.
The studio space is utilised brilliantly, and in one scene, we are treated to an intriguing display of how sound effects are created as part of the performance. It’s all, even in this day and age, remarkably low-tech. The silences in this play are sometimes awkwardly long, however, and whether the audience’s patience for sticking with it is fully rewarded is debatable. I should also point out that I would not have associated anything in the narrative with the human trafficking industry if it were not explicitly stated as a theme in the show’s programme.
This production could be a little tighter and faster-paced. Still, “whatever floats your boat” – there were people in the audience who were fully absorbed in this play, and even this sceptic who couldn’t quite dive headfirst into the make-believe world of Boat must accept that anything is indeed possible. It is only the limitations of our own imaginations that put the brakes on what can be achieved.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The girl is eleven and all she wants is to find a new home. But she’s been on this boat for what feels like forever. She can’t remember her name, or the last time she saw one of the litter lands. For miles around it’s just her, the sea creatures and her twin sister. And her twin has been asleep for a very long time.
Millwood Hargrave creates the fantasy world of a girl who has been wrenched from her own country and thrust into an unfamiliar world, as part of the child trafficking industry that plagues our society. The story of two young non-British girls on a boat – one of whom has lost her life – cannot fail to conjure up some of the tragic images of the migrant crisis seen recently on the news and social media.
In BOAT, Millwood Hargrave hauntingly wrestles with her own experience of assault, which has informed her work for several years. She is an internationally-renowned poet, whose work won her the Yeovil International Poetry Prize in 2013 and gained her the honour of being named a Barbican Young Poet. Her debut novel comes out in the US (Knopf [Random House]) and UK (Chicken House Books) in 2016.
Playwright – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Director – Max Barton
Designer – Shawn Soh
Company – PIGDOG
Performance Dates – October 19 – November 5 2015
Sunday – Thursday, 7:30pm
Running Time 75 minutes
Theatre N16, The Bedford,
77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD