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The Gulf at Tristan Bates Theatre | Review

The Gulf Rehearsals
The Gulf Rehearsals

About two-thirds of the way through The Gulf, it suddenly struck me that there hasn’t been a critical incident yet in the show – one of those all-encompassing sudden events in the narrative that changes everything and blows the worlds of the show’s characters apart, irreparably and in perpetuity. Spoiler alert: there still isn’t one by the curtain call. I was, at least in my mind, punching the air with delight. Yes! Hurrah! At last! A one-act, ninety-minute, no-interval, contemporary play that relies on a continuous narrative with incremental developments, bucking the trend of narratives where everything (give or take) runs smoothly before a proverbial train smash.

There are other reasons, why, however, there are not a lot of plays out there like this one that are produced on the London stage. Some of the pauses are so long that even Harold Pinter if he were still with us, would express concern. Further, the naturalistic nature of the production makes it come across as though it were in real-time. Given that Kendra (Louisa Lytton) is fishing and Betty (Anna Acton) is engrossed in her reading, it’s really not the most riveting of shows. Not at face value, anyway.

Beneath the surface level banality of their conversation, which eventually spills over into a full-blown shouting match, much can be read between the lines. Betty talks as though she is thinking out loud, a stream of consciousness that is difficult for Kendra (let alone the audience) to follow at times. So many off-stage characters and scenarios are introduced, and not fully developed, that one is never quite sure whether it is worth bearing in mind the salient points being told in any given story: does any of it become profound and/or relevant later on?

Then there’s this. “I’m gonna build a wall,” Betty says, “and let you [Kendra] pay for it”. Aside from the (not so) subtle reference to a key election pledge by President Trump, it is difficult not to feel some concern for the future of their relationship, given Kendra’s seeming lack of objection to Betty’s proposal. The bickering witnessed here is no different to the bickering that goes on in many relationships at some point: on the one hand, the play offers nothing new (harsh, but true), but on the other hand, they are having a full and frank exchange of views, and this allows the audience to look and listen in on a private conversation.

There’s talk, although fleeting, of a massive oil spill that poisoned the waters in the vicinity where Kendra and Betty live. Rightly, the writing is sophisticated enough not to make too much of a connection between the physical destruction caused by the oil spill and the emotional damage to the couple’s relationship. It does, however, make references to the economic consequences of the oil disaster, which reveals something about the differing ambitions of the pair. I identified more with Kendra, who (if I have understood correctly, that is) works to live rather than the other way around; Betty, meanwhile, is in possession of a ‘career path workbook’ – make of that what you will.

As Kendra points out, the oil spill was some years ago, and I could only agree with her between-the-lines desire for Betty to join her in moving on and getting on with life. But what is particularly interesting is what isn’t said. There’s no discussion, for instance, about what ‘other people’ think about this relationship that happens to be lesbian, despite it being set in a part of the USA not exactly renowned for ‘tolerance’ let alone genuine ‘inclusivity’. The Gulf makes no distinction between this couple and a hypothetical ‘straight’ one – and, indeed, the parts could, theoretically, be played by actors of any gender.

The set is really quite gorgeous, and sets the scene well, as do the birdsong sound effects. But it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for either character, and there’s no sense of being taken on any sort of narrative journey. Some of the pauses in the dialogue are so long it’s easy to disengage – during one pause, I managed to sing (in my head) the entire first verse of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ from Bat Out of Hell The Musical just up the road from the Tristan Bates Theatre. The first line seemed apt for this play: “Baby, we can talk all night, but that ain’t getting us nowhere…

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The European Premiere of The Gulf by Audrey Cefaly is an honest representation of the challenges all relationships can endure, no matter the sexuality. It looks at two women on a small fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico and what makes their relationship tick.

The message in society that a ‘significant other’, preferably of the opposite sex, is the answer to feeling complete and happy, is always present. Through bickering, insults, self-help books and physical and emotional game playing the audience discover, along with Betty and Kendra, the substance to their relationship and their future together.

CAST:
Kendra – Louisa Lytton
Betty – Anna Acton

The Gulf
Performance Dates Tuesday 17th April – Saturday 5th May 2018
Running time 90 minutes, no interval
Writer Audrey Cefaly
Producer M. Green Productions
Director Matthew Gould
Lighting Designer Mitchell Reeve
Sound Designer Will Thompson
Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, London, WC2H 9NP
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

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1 thought on “The Gulf at Tristan Bates Theatre | Review”

  1. A poor production of THE GULF results in poor insight from the critic! This is a layered piece with much subtext! The strength of the writing lies in what is not said! If the pace is off as in silence between characters, the result is deadly! The depth of the characters reflects what we have all felt not necessarily expressed verbally in a dysfunctional relationship! This piece is a prize winner and for good reason! It’s a difficult piece to perform well without skilled insight and guidance from a director! The actors too must understand the complexity of Kendra and Betty! The Deep South adds another layer that must be explored! I could go on and on, but it’s all there in the writing!

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