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Desmond’s Scared of the Smoking Sea by Tommy Sissons

Desmond’s Scared of the Smoking Sea is a short play by ‘award-winning poet and educator’ Tommy Sissons.

Desmond’s Scared of the Smoking SeaThis play takes place in a Pupil Referral Unit in Lewisham, the London Borough where the Jack Studio Theatre is situated. We meet Desmond and Wiggy, two 15/16-year-olds who have presumably been expelled from their mainstream schools and are, as usual, truanting lessons in order to distract themselves from the looming threat of their limited prospects post-education. They are both naïve, especially Desmond, whom Wiggy succeeds in winding up by convincing him, prior to an outing to Southend, that the sea smokes. We also meet one of their teachers, Donna, whom each boy is able to relate to.

Sissons’ dialogue is nearly always believable, mostly consisting of very quick, short lines which must have been horrendous to learn!

The play is at its strongest when it concentrates on Desmond, as it does for much of the latter part. The role is so written that we gradually find ourselves empathising with him, in fact by the end willing him to succeed in life, but knowing he never will. He is subtly portrayed by Alex Miller de Luis who gets the lost look of a teenager just right, as well as the hair! His face is very expressive and watchable – often very poignant: we wish we could help him but know that is not possible.

Wiggy, played by Tyler Kinghorn, is also a very strong performance. He loves taunting Desmond, but it is obvious that he needs him as his (only?) friend. Both actors have great physical skills and put a great deal of energy into their roles. Kinghorn’s enunciation of Sissons’ dialogue has superb clarity and we miss nothing of this performance. Both actors get the ages of the boys just right – we never think that they are adults ‘pretending’ to be teenagers!

Sarah Gain’s character, Donna, is perhaps a little “cosy” as being the only teacher that either boy can relate to, but, having taught in schools for many years, this often happens, especially with those who find school irrelevant. Gain looks the part and we gradually warm to her as the play progresses.

The director, Aoife Scott, has ensured that the play moves swiftly and with energy, even if, at times, some of the lines are spoken so quietly that hearing them is difficult even in a space the size of The Jack. A simple black set, complete with a school playground bench set centre stage has been designed by Jack Ambrose with unobtrusive lighting by Darwin Hennessy, always ensuring that we can see faces. No one has been credited with the choice of music used, which is often quite surprising!

At forty-five minutes the play is really too brief for a whole evening at the theatre: a double bill with a contrasting piece would have been welcome! But this play is well worth seeing, and will doubtless find its way into many school drama departments, as it should.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Desmond’s Scared of the Smoking Sea by Tommy Sissons
Creative Team: Written by Tommy Sissons
Directed by Aoife Scott
Set Design by Jack Ambrose
Lighting Design by Darwin Hennessey
Produced by Kitchen Revolt

Desmond: Alex Miller de Luis
Wiggy: Tyler Kinghorn
Donna: Sarah Gain
Tuesday 22 – Friday 25 August 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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