Review: Sea

Theatre

10.03.2014

Review: Sea

SEA - image for Maidment

Best known for their 2009 masterpiece The Arrival – a stage adaptation of Shaun Tan’s gorgeous graphic novel – Red Leap Theatre’s latest show, Sea, is visually stunning but lacks narrative cohesiveness and emotional depth.

We open on the storm. Silk curtains billow fiercely down the stage, rushing towards the audience, revealing glimpses of a tragedy unfolding.  As quickly as they’re there, they’re gone. We open again: an unnamed disaster has destroyed a Pacific island, but a small group have escaped and are floating adrift, hungry, tired, missing home.

Set against this backdrop of invisible catastrophe, Sea is a story of a child lost overboard. It’s about days spent trying to survive. It’s a story of a child later found (alive, thanks to some mysterious marine magic) and still more days where the end goal is to live, each minute underscored by a muddy seabed of human ruthlessness and greed.

Sync.Still066 (2)

As with Red Leap’s landmark show The Arrival, Sea is a theatre of magic, combining physicality and dance with evocative soundscapes and inventive and delightful puppetry. It’s a world to marvel at – from the plastic-bottle sea foam, to the umbrella’d jellyfish gulping upstage, to the expertly manipulated Edward Gorey-esque child-puppet clumsily learning to swim. This magic extends to the performers, too. The nine-strong ensemble cast move with a swift, magnetic energy, though it’s Dahnu Graham who’s the real highlight. Playing the lost boy, his movements evoke the weightlessness of water, the sense of being supported, yet not - that paradox of heavy grace.

There’s a difficulty you face when you don’t have dialogue (there are some spoken elements, sung or bellowed or howled, but these are mostly used to punctuate an emotion). Without it, it’s harder to create what Sea needs and lacks: narrative cohesion and emotional depth. In The Arrival, this was achieved through the exquisite simplicity of the story – a man dealing with the difficulties of immigrating to a new culture. Everything built on this single struggle. In Sea, the struggle is too vast. It wants to be too much, and in doing so becomes confusing and irresolute.

The first half of the show is a mash of shipwreck montages. There’s lots of howling and hardship. Hunger. Thirst. Betrayal. Grief. We’re presented with an extreme amplification of human fear and suffering but none of the emotional connection we need to feel it, and after a while you begin to wonder if Sea is a sly Brechtian exercise – one that forces you to focus on the magnificence of the physical performance, which you do. This doesn’t seem to be the case, though, because we move onto a brainstorm of  ‘other sea issues’. Pollution. Overfishing. It’s visually spectacular but intellectually heavy-handed and, as a result, feels not only fragmented but vaguely patronising.

It’s not until the second half  - when parent and child are reunited – that we witness the beating heart of the play. There’s a lot to unpack here, all of it worth unpacking: questions of how family is defined, what that means and how that can bind you, for better or worse. Leroy Lakamu is superb as the father here, cautiously yearning to find a thread that will tie him to his son. It’s these later scenes, where everything comes together, that makes the earlier ones feel like a prolonged exposition. It’s a heart that feels like it emerges a too late, beating too slowly and finishing too fast.



Sea plays at the Maidment Theatre from 6-10 March
Book tickets here


*


See also:
Johnny Givins for Theatreview | Simon Wilson for Metro
Paul Simei-Barton for The New Zealand Herald

The Show Means Something and Absolutely Nothing
Read Time: 20 mins
On not-finishing.
Theatre
The Show Means Something and Absolutely Nothing
By Kate Prior
Freelance Freefall: Covid-19 and Our Artists
Read Time: 28 mins
Our freelance artists across theatre and visual arts...
Art
Freelance Freefall: Covid-19 and Our Artists
By Kate Prior and Lana Lopesi
Memoirs of a Participant: A Review of Essays In Love
Read Time: 9 mins
Kate Prior was a participant in Oliver Driver and...
Theatre
Memoirs of a Participant: A Review of Essays In Love
By Kate Prior
Making Art With Strangers
Read Time: 12 mins
Vanessa Crofskey talks with Alice Canton about Year...
Theatre
Making Art With Strangers
By Vanessa Crofskey
Bite-sized Reviews: NZ Fringe 2020 Week Three
Read Time: 4 mins
Bite-sized reviews from the final week of NZ Fringe...
Theatre
Bite-sized Reviews: NZ Fringe 2020 Week Three
By Pantograph Punch
From Mob to Whānau: A Review of Black Ties
Read Time: 4 mins
In a play that navigates tensions between an Indigenous...
Theatre
From Mob to Whānau: A Review of Black Ties
By Tia Reihana
Burn The Whole Fucking House Down: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm in Conversation
Read Time: 25 mins
English playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is in Tāmaki...
Theatre
Burn The Whole Fucking House Down: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm in Conversation
By Kate Prior
Bite-sized Reviews: NZ Fringe 2020 Week Two
Read Time: 8 mins
Our bite-size Fringe reviews are back!
Theatre
Bite-sized Reviews: NZ Fringe 2020 Week Two
By Pantograph Punch