The Sea, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Friday 25 January 2008
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
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy has not been arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Peep Show series 9: Final season to air on Channel 4 in 2015
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella