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Review of Gold Coast by Louise Gooding at Theatre503

Gold CoastGold Coast, despite being largely centred on the story of one soldier, is a play made unnecessarily complicated by flitting between 1993 and 2016 and most, if not all, of the years in between. Each time, a wall calendar was changed to display a particular year. Trying to guess which year the show would suddenly jump to next was, on occasion, more intriguing than the narrative itself. There are too many scenes, and thus too many scene changes, making the production feel considerably longer than it was, and making it difficult to get properly absorbed in proceedings. In many (but by no means all) cases, just as a scene got going, it was time for that scene to wrap up: another readjustment, another need to establish time, place and context.

Joe (Tommy Burgess) has trouble articulating his true feelings no matter how many questions his wife Roz (Olivia Bromley) throws at him. It is difficult not to have some sympathy for her – Joe’s answers are so evasive they would impress government spin doctors. It transpires he was an Army Reserve soldier: the words ‘Territorial Army’ are never used, though that is what the Army Reserve was known as from 1920 to 2014. Joe, fighting in the ‘second’ (that is, post 9/11) Gulf War, would have been called up as a member of the TA, and left it before it was renamed. Elsewhere, Simone (Josephine Rogers) gives the incorrect date of the Stop the War Coalition march and demonstration, even though she claims she was a participant.

Several attempts are made to overcome what may or may not be post-traumatic stress disorder – there was never a proper diagnosis. If the behaviour of doctors Green (also Rogers) and Brown (Jeremy Drakes) were to be extrapolated to the rest of the medical profession, one would be forgiven for thinking medics have zero interest in acting in the best interests of their patients. From personal experience, this is – overall – untrue. Simone, introduced as a ‘pacifist’ but is really a (presumably) unlicensed private therapist of some sort, paid for by Roz, is even worse, proving herself to be medically, ethically and morally inept.

Paradoxically, the sheer reticence on Joe’s part to tell it like it is (or even how it isn’t), makes for an impressive, if awkward, dramatic performance. There is a consistent blockage of vocabulary and many incomplete sentences. The play’s commitment to keeping Joe’s secrets secret results in stilted character development. While there are moments in which Joe, sat alone, finds himself in conversation with a toy rabbit that really belongs to his daughter Lisa (also Bromley), even these do not reveal much beyond what the audience is already largely aware.

The play asserts that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children; Joe is, partly if not entirely, the way he is because of the difficult relations he had with his own father following the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Frankly, it’s too Freudian for my liking. Young Lisa, in turn, is, eventually, in danger of going the way of both her father and grandfather. There is, thankfully, some indication that her circumstances are slightly more nuanced than that.

Overall, however, more questions are raised than are answered, and it would have been good to have learned more about effective strategies to combat the sort of psychological problems Joe encounters, rather than these dud solutions that make no noticeable difference. With all that selective stammering, it’s slightly puzzling that nobody thought that perhaps speech therapy may have been the way to go.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Joe’s a soldier who can’t fight. A lover who can’t love. He’s carrying a terrible secret that’s threatening to tear his life apart.

It’s 2003 and Joe’s returned from Iraq. His wife Roz knows something is wrong. She struggles to help him. Thousands of miles away, years later, his teenage daughter Lisa is fighting her own demons. Can Joe come to terms with his past to save his daughter’s future?

Gold Coast reveals the damage to three generations of one family from wars in the Gulf region. It reaches across time and continents to tell the story of Joe and his family.

Eloise Lally Productions in association with Theatre503 present
GOLD COAST
Written by Louise Gooding
Directed by Eloise Lally
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours including an interval
Recommended for ages 16+
Booking to 17th February 2018
https://theatre503.com/

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