Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Imagine Drowning - Rosemary Branch Theatre, London

Imagine Drowning
Writer:Terry Johnson
Director: Ed Bartram
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Imagine Drowning is a strange fish of a play. Neither biblical epic, personal journey nor witty political statement, it bobs around uncomfortably among the flotsam and jetsam making for a rather soupy evening. It is not that the writing isn’t good (at some points Terry Johnson is his brilliant self) just that it doesn’t know where it’s going and although Waxwing Theatre seems like a safe pair of hands to guide this ship, Ed Bartram is not strong enough to make sense of it.

David has left his wife to chase a story and a meaning to his life. Jane follows him 10 days later and in split scenes we see both their lives in parallel as they stay at a guest house in Cumbria full of quirky ‘other’ characters. They are on a journey of the soul, we are told by Buddy the omniscient narrator, dealing with separation from the selves they once loved; will Jane find David and more importantly will they ever find themselves?

This duality of storylines is an interesting technique, although Bartram does very little to squeeze the juicy theatrical potential out of Johnson’s writing with the split scenes often feeling flat and shapeless. If you are going to have two pieces of action running concurrently you need to have a defined sense of each one and something for the actors to do whilst they are waiting their turn. This sadly seems lacking and so we have a lot of frozen actors staring out at the audience blankly which rather takes the tension out of it.

Stephanie Goodfellow as Jane is believably earthy, and well, ‘a good person’ and Joanne Hildon movingly impresses as the tenderly funny and gently damaged Brenda. But for the most part it is hard to like these people, from the Godlike beach bum Buddy to the fanatical left wing disabled activist Tom, they are all self obsessed and dislikable. Only Brenda’s son Sam escapes such a fate with his sweet panache for violence and sex, but his part is not big enough to dilute the irritation that the rest of these characters cause.

On the plus side, Nina Welch’s soundscape eerily conjures up a sense of the ‘sticky darkness’ that so obsesses David , as does the sinister spluttering to life of the empty fish tank and faux friendly voice of bland TV shows spliced with violent horror.

On the whole then a solid version of a slightly bizarre play that all feels a little bit damp in the end. There is an interesting piece beneath the surface of Johnson’s problematic text, but it will take a more daring ensemble to discover this deeply buried treasure.

Runs until Sun 11th Oct
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