The Sea, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
At the age of 74, the radical dramatist Edward Bond makes his belated West End debut, courtesy of Jonathan Kent, who has directed a splendid production of his 1973 comedy The Sea. A classic case of a prophet without honour in his own country, Bond is fêted on the Continent, but he's cold-shouldered by the English theatre establishment, partly through a propensity to row with and estrange himself from subsidised companies.
Kent is the man who made a hot West End ticket of the verse tragedies of Racine. Here he brilliantly succeeds in his gamble of fielding a Bond piece as the second instalment of his inaugural season at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Having already mounted a searching revival in Sheffield of Lear, Bond's mighty riposte to Shakespeare's tragedy, Kent now captures what is hilarious and what is haunting in The Sea, Bond's free response to The Tempest, Shakespeare's greatest tragicomedy.
Set in a small East Anglian coastal town in 1907, with war discernible on the horizon, it's a play that begins with a shipwreck and a drowning, and ends with the suspended answer to a question and tentative hope. In between it focuses on the deeply unsentimental education of Willy Carson (an excellent Harry Lloyd).
Kent's expertly acted production is alert to the gloriously petty comedy of small-town life presided over by Mrs Rafi, whose autocratic disdain is tempered in Eileen Atkins's magnificent performance by a wry, hard-eyed acknowledgment of the lonely, loveless existence that has come from playing the monster. Marcia Warren, too, is a joy as Mrs Rafi's frustrated, attention-seeking sidekick.
This is a tightly stratified world where a pressured sense of his social inferiority has driven the draper (a wonderfully demented David Haig) to delusions of alien invasion and paroxysms of racial hatred. At the same time, thanks to characters like the wrecked beach-dwelling eccentric Evens (a sympathetic David Burke), the play has a philosophic and poetic reach that can liberatingly view human life against a galactic backdrop. "Who can kill space, or time, or dust? All destruction is finally petty and in the end life laughs at death."
The play's different scales of reference are highlighted, with nice, droll deprecation, in the wise fool's injunction to the young hero: "Catch the 11.45 and change the world".
To 19 April (0870 060 6642); a version of this review has already run in some editions of the paper
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Liam Gallagher slams Daft Punk: 'I could have written Get Lucky in an hour'
Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
After 61 films, including The Hangover Part III, Heather Graham admits she still likes to boogie
- 1 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 2 Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
- 3 Exclusive: How MI5 blackmails British Muslims
- 4 EDL marches on Newcastle as attacks on Muslims increase tenfold in the wake of Woolwich machete attack which killed Drummer Lee Rigby
- 5 Farewell, Shameless. Your heirs have work to do
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.