This is the story of two women with little in common, and the formation of an unlikely bond, as their tales converge and combine.
We first meet the damaged Jo (Jennifer Aries), desperate and alone on a beach, haunted by an ancient evil, shuffling a deck of precisely no cards. Aries gives a performance of agonising emptiness, director Barry wringing out the Pinteresque pauses until they drip despair. Her face and body shapes shout, in a voice of splintered mayhem, of the end of hope, and bear witness to the consequences of bad choices and hard times.
An intruder interrupts her reverie. Ciara Pouncett’s Anne has been bruised by life’s passage, but, at first sight, her experiences have made her deeper, more human. Radiant and beautiful in a designer wetsuit, she observes her perfect morning rituals, tea and biscuits on the beach followed by open water swimming. Organised and sorted, she could not be more different to the wreckage that is Jo.
Initially, there is hostility, intimations of harm, violence even, as the well-meaning Anne’s clumsy intervention backfires, but, as Jo challenges her smug and privileged existence, so Anne ups the stakes and, in a compelling performance from Pouncett, matches her antagonist blow for blow and claws back the high ground.
This is the first dramatic work written by experienced performer and creative Claire Erasmus. As she unfolds their stories, we find both women are damaged and, in their own ways, as desperate, as each other. Hard facts make strange bedfellows and the odd couple form a common bond born of regret and need.
The middle scenes are slightly over detailed. This is already a huge story, we are all flotsam on life’s beach, a few paces from infinity. It would have been better to let the silences ring and provide empty spaces for us to fill with our own demons, with the exposition of sub-plots left implicit. Chekhov would spot a good deal of undischarged ordinance. Sometimes you need to spend longer saying less. There are flashes of high comedy, which, given space, could be extended, to better illustrate their shared experience of life’s milestones.
The climax, when it comes, is satisfying and dramatic, nice twist, artfully revealed, but feels rushed. And the coda is artificially constrained within time, making triumph appear hollow, without a proper cost having been paid. The play is rigorous in the application of the three unities, but sometimes rules are there to be broken.
But none of this takes away from the strength of the story, the raw, authentic tragedy of the piece, or the skill and craft of the excellent performances. It is to be hoped the play has an opportunity for further development, if not then keep an eye open for the next work of this writer.
A moving piece of theatre from a writer, and company, to watch.
Review by Laura Thomas
When eternal optimist Ann, goes for her early morning swim in a quiet seaside town, she encounters a messed up misfit, Jo, who has stuffed her pockets with rocks. What develops between them is an unlikely connection that challenges each of their views of the world and ultimately changes their fate.
Flotsam explores the idea that communally people can be a force for good, that reaching out, connection and fellowship matter. Flotsam bears witness to two ordinary, yet extraordinary lives, to their forgotten voices, to two women’s struggles in the face of adversity.
Flotsam is a new play by emerging writer Claire Erasmus. A gripping exploration of our own mortality explored through the undeniable power of female friendship. Starring Jennifer Aries of BAFTA award-winning Call the Midwife, the Tunnel and Ripper Street and Ciara Pouncett, soon to be seen in High Water.
16th & 17th November 2018