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Review of Helen Foster in The Diver at The Rag Factory

Helen Foster in The Diver
Helen Foster in The Diver

A show that begins with a spiel by the theatre’s artistic director about how the show deliberately attempts to challenge popular (that is, well-known) ideas of what an evening at the theatre is like calls for a review that responds – or attempts to respond – in kind. I’ll start by ditching any star rating. That is not, mind you, me rating a show zero out of five, but rather joining the spirit of ‘The Diver’ in challenging convention and thinking more widely, and therefore not allowing a rating to summarise my thoughts on my Friday night East End experience.

The show has an unusually long preamble, breaking the fourth wall almost immediately. After well and truly breaking the ice by engaging in banter with audience members, Helen Foster then launches into the role of Kate Plank, an explorer who wants to achieve an absurd feat of walking along the Atlantic Ocean floor from Land’s End to New York City. The narrative itself is ridiculous, with talking fish and a short-term love affair with a colossal squid. But the show isn’t really about the narrative. It is more about enjoying a live experience and being part of the action, not by a classy set and clever lighting that draws an audience in, but by active participation in the proceedings.

There is no requirement to mount the stage. But we become journalists at a press conference and fire questions at Kate Plank, who reacts defensively when asked about comparisons to Bear Grylls and publicity stunts. We create a ‘kelp forest’ – mini-tambourines, bubble solution bottles and electric torches are distributed to aid with this. I then later found myself imitating the sound of an ambulance siren as our explorer finally makes it to the Big Apple.

That may sound childish, and in one (rudimentary) sense it was. However, it is not so much the arm waving and siren calling, but the pleasant atmosphere it creates. Collectively, as audience members, we laugh together at the absurdity of it all, and therefore we find ourselves having a good time. It’s a similar psychology that lies behind Christmas cracker jokes, deliberately written in such a way that it brings people together. We end up laughing at how substandard it all is, rather than being divided on how good we individually believe it to be.

Foster regularly breaks character to calmly explain each scene change: “So, guys, in the next bit…” It’s as though we are in Foster’s front room. The audience is not required to work hard to figure out what’s going on with everything so plainly explained – you don’t come out thinking, “What was that all about?” It’s certainly very different from a lot of plays out there. There are more than a few that would be vastly improved by cutting certain scenes out and having someone come out of character and announce a sequence of events, allowing the show to crack on without members of the audience losing interest until something interesting and/or critical happens.

There are deeper issues explored too (after all, you can’t go deeper than the bottom of the ocean). Just as Kate Plank overcomes her fear by jumping over some chasm in the middle of the Atlantic, we all can choose to overcome our fears by resolving to tackle them head-on, even if we can’t see exactly where we’re going, like Kate getting herself out of an oil spill.

The Diver is a refreshing piece of theatre that tells its story well enough, whilst allowing its audiences to take away as much or as little as it wishes.

Review by Chris Omaweng

Craft Theatre Presents…. The Diver
The Diver is an underwater adventure story following explorer Kate Plank as she attempts to walk across the Atlantic Ocean floor from England to New York.
What Perils will she face?!
Will she arrive safely on the other side?!
Will the audience drown?!! *
(* most water is imaginary)
A playful, imaginative one woman show drawing on puppetry, physical theatre and clowning to explore the depths of the Ocean and the fear that can stand in our way.
July 9 10 11 12 16 17 18 19 23 24 25 26 30 31 Aug 1 2 £12
8pm starts except Sundays (6pm).
craft.ticketsource.co.uk

Saturday 11th July 2015

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