From the moment of entering the Jermyn Street Theatre I felt like I was in an old school American teen drama. The OC or One Tree Hill for example. The lockers that sat on the stage as well as the Indie synth soundtrack instantly took me to that world. After the first scene, which seemed a tad slow, I did worry that this was going to be a play of classic teenage girl stereotypes that we’ve seen before but it soon became apparent that Dry Land goes a lot deeper.
Milly Thomas and Aisha Fabienne Ross play Amy and Ester, two teenage swimmers readying themselves for the next step in their education. Fabienne Ross as Ester has a believable insecurity which I’m sure everyone can connect with at some level from their school years. When she meets boisterous Amy, a forceful but some would say even more insecure girl, it feels like we are watching two young ladies chat about the classic teenage topics. School, boys and sex. Although it soon becomes apparent that this story is not about what the girls are saying but what they are doing. What Ester is physically doing to Amy and what Amy is emotionally doing to Ester. Thomas and Fabienne Ross have a wonderful chemistry and to show such a large development in a relationship in the space of an hour and a half is a real testament to both the actors and director (Hannah Hauer-King). As the show begins to pick up pace, so does the storyline and a few confusing moments from previous scenes finally begin to make sense as we achieve that “ah-ha” moment and the real, slightly darker plot begins to emerge.
A mention must be given to Charlotte Hamblin as Reba whose comic timing is second to none. What could have been an insignificant part with not masses of relevance becomes a wonderful cameo that actually helps push the relationship of Amy and Ester along. Hamblin grabs the bull by the horns each time she enters the stage as the nonchalant Reba rocking her “take me to the beach” T-shirt and bringing a much needed comical break to the growing intensity of the show.The penultimate scene was bold and fearless. I was begging for it to stop but couldn’t look away. Not once did it feel unrealistic and it was the first time Fabienne Ross and Thomas became adults in this coming of age drama. I do feel that writer, Ruby Rae Spiegel, could have done without the last scene. It felt forced, as if we as an audience member needed everything to be tied in a neat little bow, which had me leave a tad disappointed.
There were also a few moments where Rae Spiegel’s script seemed to turn into a competition between Ester and Amy over who had the most depressing life but having thought about it I’ve come to realise that teenagers do this. They fight for attention and often being happy and content isn’t “cool”, a theme that seems to come across incredibly clear in Hauer-King’s production.
Dry Land makes you think. Not only about the pressures of being a teenager in today’s overly judgemental society or the worry of what you’re going to do with your future but are teenagers really this bold, intelligent, cruel and judgemental? … I think we all know the answer.
Review by Hugh Roberts
Dry Land was greeted with ecstatic reviews and queues around the block when it premiered at the Here Arts Center in New York a year ago. The production prompted revered New York Times critic Ben Bradley to award it a glowing five star review in which he described the work as “tender, caustic, funny and harrowing, often all at the same time”. A finalist for the prestigious Susan Blackburn award and heaped with praise, the 21 year-old Ruby Rae Spiegel was named a “fearless” writer who could expect a glittering career ahead.
Set in the girls’ locker room of a Florida high school, this energetic four-hander explores an unlikely friendship that is put to the most extreme of tests. Tackling issues surrounding abortion, female sexuality and pressures of youth, Dry Land is a searing portrait of adolescent friendship and resilience through crisis.
The cast comprises Milly Thomas, Aisha Fabienne Ross, Charlotte Hamblin and Dan Cohen.
By Ruby Rae Spiegel
Directed by Hannah Hauer-King
Jermyn Street Theatre
16b Jermyn Street,
London SW1Y 6ST
November 3rd to 21st, 2015