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Under the Radar at the Old Red Lion Theatre | Review

No matter how much you may consider yourself part of the PC/Woke generation, you are full of unconscious biases. It’s a fact of life and something we cannot get away from.  Of course, most of us manage to keep these in check and not let them surface. But sometimes situations cause us to let go of our restraint and then who knows what may come out. Something that is explored in Jonathon Crewe’s dark comedy Under the Radar which has just opened the Old Red Lion in Islington.

Under the RadarLee Stilling (Eleanor Hill) is a happy person. She is about to get the journalistic scoop of her lifetime as she has been invited to join Captain Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe) on the maiden voyage of his home-built submarine the UC3-Eden. Two strangers with the usual complexities that make up human personalities travelling together in a submarine for 48 hours, what could possibly go wrong?

Depending on your personality, you are probably looking at the above and have already made up your mind where this show is going to go – unconscious bias much? I’m not going to tell you if you’re right or wrong, but I will tell you that Under the Radar is a very difficult show to watch and to write about. I really don’t want to say too much as the show needs to be seen. What I can say is that Crewe has written a fascinating piece about humans and how they react when placed not only in a very different environment to that which they’re used to, but also one where potentially nobody will ever know what they have done. In some ways the story is conventional but in others, particularly in the second act, it really takes the audience by surprise and moves them far outside of their comfort zone. There is a lot of gentle comedy in the back-and-forth banter between the two characters but, there were times when, due to the nature of the action, I was sitting there, not sure if I could or even should laugh.  When you are questioning yourself like that it’s a definite sign of first-rate writing.

Initially, Lee and Martin seem to be quite simple, if a little irritating, characters, and it’s soon established that they both have had problems with their families. This led me to think that we were going to be travelling down the well-worn ‘daddy issues’ trope.  Of course, I was wrong and, as each character moved through the tale, growing more and more fully formed, it was obvious that there were more things at work than just parental problems. Of the two, I would say Lee is the more complex and Eleanor Hill plays her beautifully. At first, the professional journalist with feminist tendencies, Hill’s performance grows throughout the show as we get to know the character more. Similarly, Anscombe delivers a really strong performance as the socially awkward Martin, a man who would probably be happy just being in his submarine and away from the problems of the world up there. One thing to say about both performances is that they are very physical. Hill really makes use of her features and expressions to transmit Lee’s feelings and has the ability that you used to find in teachers when a mere look was enough to quell the rowdiest of pupils. With Anscombe it was different. and from the moment he appeared on the stage, I had the feeling that this was going to be a character you couldn’t take for granted. There was something in Anscombe’s movement and facial expression that, and I can’t really explain why, made me wary and apprehensive about Captain Martin from the start.

Jonathan Crewe not only wrote the play but also directs and keeps the action moving nicely. The scene changes, which also seemed to reflect a passage of time, were nicely done, if occasionally slightly noisy and the use of the white curtain was very effective, particularly in the second act. Speaking of which, I do question the need for an interval. The show is roughly 90 minutes long and, for me, the interval felt like an unwelcome intrusion given the way the first act ended.  I would have been happier if it had gone straight through.

To sum up. Under the Radar is an unusual play that will challenge your own unconscious bias. At times it will be uncomfortable at others it will make you laugh – but possibly feel guilty. The production is first-rate with well-written characters and two very talented actors bringing them to life. Ultimately the production does what all good theatre should. At the end, you will question what you have seen, and how your own unconscious prejudices affect how it made you feel, and you will talk to others and find you have very different ideas, then maybe want to go back, and see it again.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Responding to the murder of Kim Wall by Peter Madsen in his submarine, Under the Radar explores gender, consent, power and violence.

Lee, a quick-witted reporter, sets out to write a career-making article on an eccentric inventor, Captain Martin Christensen, and the maiden voyage of his private submarine. The two set off and, before long, the contained space of the vessel becomes a darkly comic microcosm for the conflicts between gender, tradition and modernity. Under the radar, these extremes play out, but only one of the passengers will make it back to shore.

From 15th March to 2nd April 2022

The Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, Angel, EC1V 4NJ

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