The Hope Theatre, above The Hope and Anchor pub in Islington, is a renowned Off West End performance venue, with a remarkable and impressive reputation. This 50 seat venue may be small, but its aims and theatrical outputs are huge and immensely powerful. Dedicated to nurturing new talent in all areas of the performing arts industry as well giving a new lease of life to classic texts, The Hope Theatre is most certainly leading the way in ground-breaking theatre and performance.
This year, under the direction of Artistic Director Matthew Parker, The Hope Theatre has launched a series of three in-house productions, being staged over three seasons. Spring has seen the start of this series, with a truly delicious dark comedy by Lucy Catherine, Sea Life. This is a London premiere of Sea Life, following a successful run at the Bristol Old Vic studio in 2000.
Sea Life follows three characters, siblings Edward (Eddie) and twins Robert (Bob) and Roberta (Bob) and their rather dysfunctional yet mundane life. The three of them live in a family owned pub which never gets any customers, in a seaside town which never gets any visitors. Although limited and uneventful, their lives are far from uncomplicated or without its fair share of difficulties and emotional stress. From start to finish the play takes the audience on a turbulent journey through their family history, revealing painful home truths and many sad realisations, all of which have impacted heavily on the lives thy now lead . One of the many redeeming features of this play is the subtle blend of comedy and tragedy. At any given moment you can be laughing at one of the hilariously written and impeccably delivered jokes and then the reality of what has actually been said hits you or the sinister undertone of what seems so innocent, comes to the surface. There are moments in the performance that are truly thought provoking and will leave you questioning what you have watched.
Roberta (Bob) is played by Vicky Gaskin. Gaskin has created a fully realised character and delivers a gripping nuance based performance, which promotes laughter and sadness from the audience. It is near impossible to avoid making an emotional attachment to Roberta, her intense childlike vulnerability and obvious desire to live a life beyond the one that has been thrust upon her, makes her a rather tragic and sad character. Truly a stellar performance!
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Robert (Bob) is played by Chris Levens. Levens delivers a strong performance and illustrates his characters obvious and unhealthy co-dependency on his twin sister with sensitivity and care. Levens has a very strong but subtle physicality in his characterisation of Robert. Although weak and co-dependent throughout most of the play, Levens has given Robert an edge of unpredictability and potential rage. This fine balance of characterisation certainly demands attention.
Edward (Eddie) is played by Jack Harding. Harding has a booming presence on the stage, in both his physical stature and his boundless energy. Harding has beautifully created a strong, forceful and intimidating character, who is simultaneously weak and emotionally broken beyond repair.
The cast share the stage with ease and grace and work seamlessly with one another, in order to tell this story. Each one of the actors are totally physically engaged with their character, their stories as well as being heavily invested in the other two characters. The relationships they have created are honest and touching. A vast majority of the scenes are dialogue heavy, which the cast deliver with clean precision. It is this precision which allows the audience to catch and process the dark nature of the comedy and the various layers which make up the story. Director, Matthew Parker, has made some bold choices with Sea Life, combining story-telling, absurdist theatre, comedy and physical theatre. Parker has created a memorable piece of theatre, his creative choices have resulted in what can only be described as utterly fantastic, highly entertaining and engaging from start to finish. Sea Life has most certainly set a high standard for the series of in-house productions or 2016.
This three-hander is a true testament as to what can be achieved when you combine great writing with talented actors and creative directing.
Review by Haydn James
The Hope Theatre presents the London premiere of
A darkly comic exploration of life, death and seaweed
“We didn’t call him grandad when we were kids. We called him The Hero. That’s what the whole town called him.”
If your grandad tried to swim the English Channel with a plate of sandwiches strapped to his head, you might think your family was a little bizarre. But what if you didn’t know any different?
As their sleepy seaside town slips slowly into the sea, Roberta, Bob and Eddie are trying to save their neighbours from ending up at the bottom of the ocean. The only thing is, their neighbours are already six feet under.
Sea Life is a dark comedy set on the crumbling shores of England, where keeping a tight grip on past and present is as hard as holding back the rising tide. It is written by Pearson Television Writer’s Award winner Lucy Catherine, former writer in residence at Bristol Old Vic, and now best known for her work on BBC television (The Musketeers, Being Human, Frankie), and her Radio 4 plays and adaptations.
Sea Life is playing at The Hope Theatre until 11th June 2016, tickets can be booked direct from The Hope Theatre website, www.thehopetheatre.com.