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The Beach House by Jo Harper at Park Theatre

The Beach House is a 70-minute, three-handed, play receiving its first production having been short-listed for Liverpool Hope playwriting and long-listed for Theatre 503 awards. The author is Jo Harper who has previously written several film and television screenplays. This is evident from the structure of this play which has a multitude of brief scenes all set in The Beach House over a period of more than a year which means that the play never seems to flow. This is emphasised by the nature of the dialogue which is a series of short sentences punctuated by pauses or silences.

The Beach House. Credit David Monteith-Hodge - @photographise.
The Beach House. Credit David Monteith-Hodge – @photographise.

The story is another retelling of the ‘eternal triangle’ – Kate and Liv buy a house near the sea in order to raise their child in a healthy environment and are visited by Kate’s sister, Jenny who disturbs the equilibrium of the partnership.

The most fully rounded character is Jenny, portrayed by Gemma Barnett, who is written as someone we can empathise with much more than the other two. Barnett portrays the necessary innocence for this role and is very successful in allowing her character to be swept along on the tide of events.

Liv, who, we are told, is a songwriter unable to write songs, appears to live in a world of her own, rather selfish as played by Gemma Lawrence, seeming to resent that she is the one left at home to look after Kate’s baby, even though that is her choice. One of those ‘glass half-empty people!

Strangely the dominant role, Kate, seems less believable than the other two. As played by Kathryn Bond she comes across as being rather hard and uncaring. As mentioned above, if only she were allowed to express herself in more than brief sentences it might help. It is also difficult to believe that she would give birth to a child and then seem to have little to do with her after she was born – Liv is left to do that! In the early scenes of the play, when we first discover that Kate is pregnant, they refuse to get married in a manner that alerts us to the fact that they don’t believe they are compatible.

Bond is effective in making Kate appear mature and finding more in the script than perhaps is actually there, but her accent does not sound natural and seems inessential for the role.

Director Bethany Pitts has ensured that the story is clearly told, but even she cannot paste over the structural difficulties of the play itself.

The Beach House is staged ‘in-the-round’ with just a pouffe and wooden chest centre stage. If only designer Cara Evans had ensured that the chest was longer, as the actors often lay out full length on it, which looks and must feel very uncomfortable and awkward as it is just too short! Simple lighting design by Laura Howard ensures that all but the corners of the stage, unfortunately often used, are lit, and sound (mostly the child crying!) and music are by Holly Khan.

Perhaps for her next play, Jo Harper will choose a subject that does not tread such well-worn paths as this does. I look forward to seeing it.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

A tender new play that explores the fragility of female relationships as three women grapple with motherhood, sisterhood and distractions. Until a betrayal exposes their secret desires…

Moving out of the city to raise their baby, the old house by the sea is supposed to be a peaceful new start for Liv and Kate. But Liv, the stay-at-home mother, is a songwriter in crisis who’s too distracted to write, while Kate, who’s just had a baby, needs to go back to work to get some order back in her life. And then there’s Kate’s sister Jenny who, despite wanting to distance herself from her overbearing sibling, finds herself being drawn back to the beach house time and time again.

Conceived against an ever-changing coastal backdrop, Jo Harper’s play explores the crisis of becoming a parent, knotted bonds between two sisters and the endurance of love.

Kate Productions Ltd and Lucas A. Ferrara in association with Park Theatre present the World Premiere of
The Beach House
By Jo Harper
Directed by Bethany Pitts
Plays: Wed 15 Feb – Sat 11 Mar
https://parktheatre.co.uk/

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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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