This review might be subtitled:
Starkness & Stagecraft
Starkness is for Fosse's enigmatic, idiot-savant text. Two unnamed men talk about how terrible the world is, and then go out to sea on a boat. Where they discover the world is not so terrible, but nevertheless suicide has its attractions. This is the second Fosse text I've come across. He is a beguiling writer, if only because you can't quite believe that anyone can get away with dialogue that seems so devoid of subtext. People say exactly what they think. Or do they? It's intriguing to see in this well-acted production that whenever the actors allow a note of humour to enter into their apparently po-faced exchanges, the drama shifts to another, more playful level. It felt as though there were more laughs latent in this piece than the production realised. Tom Brooke, one of the two actors, captured this cheeky ambivalence beautifully. In his mouth every statement became a potential question, and any suggestion of hyperbole or melodrama was undercut by the character's sense of self-awareness. The comparisons with Beckett are there to be made; and like Beckett, Fosse seems to benefit from not being drowned in seriousness.
Drowning being a strong possibility as a result of Chereau's aqueous stagecraft. As you walk in, the large open stage is turned into a puddle. Out of which later will emerge a boat, which could sink at any time. The moment the boat surges out of the deep is arresting, and the swaying, eddying boat which appears complements the meandering dialogue of the piece's middle section. Chereau and his designer's mechanics might have seemed out of keeping with the simplicity of the play, but in the event they work. The play requires a boat on the sea and Chereau delivers this, nothing more nor less. The lights bouncing off the water and water refracting off the theatre walls help lend an ethereal beauty to the space. This is high-tech simplicity, and in its paradoxical way the stagecraft is stunningly effective.
There remains the feeling that this is a brittle piece, one which requires the most delicate of touches to pull off. There are moments when it teetered on the brink of folding in on itself in a miasma of forced poeticism. However, the production skirted the isle of indulgence and came out the other side, into the wide open waters of spectacle and a theatre steeped in the physicality of things.