The latest production in the Warehouse's "Aspects Of Sex" season also indulges the theatre's long-standing Australian connection. Sheila Dewey's thoughtful but ultimately unsatisfying play is inspired by the wreck of a sailing clipper en route from England to Melbourne in 1878. The two survivors, Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce, had slept side by side in a cave for warmth on reaching shore; therefore, according to the morals of the time, they were honour bound to marry.
The first act skims deftly through the business of establishing the characters: Eva's family, the crew and other travellers. Dewey delineates individual relationships and broader social structures, and creates in Eva a substantial protagonist amidst this fabric, torn apart when the ship runs onto the rocks at the act's climax. In short, all the ingredients have been set in place for a strong human interest story.
After the interval, responses to the terrible event become entangled with the Australian community's expectations that Eva and Tom behave "properly" as regards the circumstances of their escape. Sex itself is a significant absence in the play; the crux is the social code which surrounds the act, regardless of whether or not it actually took place. Eva, already overwhelmed by her own tragedy and clinging vainly to memories of the past, and Tom, betrothed to a girl back in Scotland, now face a more insidious threat to their respective futures.
Director Ted Craig and designer Michael Pavelka are consummately skilled at tailoring productions to the size and ambience of the Warehouse. Karen Woodley and Tamblyn Lord in the title roles capture the uncertainty and volatility of the young pair's relationship, and are firmly supported by a trio of players in multiple roles.
The principal weakness is that Dewey's ambition outstrips her execution. In the interplay of personal and communal psychologies, passion frequently veers off into poetry and, most importantly, a vital element of focus is lost. She tells her story skilfully, but not compellingly; one chooses to go along with the play rather than being hooked by it. Having mapped out her dramatic reef, she is unable quite to navigate through it and founders within sight of land.
Written for the London Evening Standard.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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