Zero Degrees (and Drifting), West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Tuesday 26 October 2004
We're all cast adrift here. There's a pirate DJ, whose companion is a toy monkey; a museum curator, whose friend is a cat; and Marianne, whose live-in lover, Alan, is periodically drawn away from her to the sea. In Zero Degrees (and Drifting), the 11th show created by the inventive Leeds-born Unlimited Theatre company since it was formed, seven years ago, tales of salty endeavours and nautical snapshots ebb and flow around the incident of the young man on the shore.
When a mysterious stranger is washed up like a piece of flotsam or jetsam, Marianne, instead of calling the emergency services, rescues him, takes him to her lighthouse-home and installs him in her boyfriend's bed. Distracted from measuring weather and preserving fish, she is soon dedicating herself to saving the visitor. Who is he, where has he come from and what has caused his battered yet beautiful body to be abandoned in the ocean? Hints are given about the torture of a boy with a speech impediment, and the stranger certainly seems to have lost his tongue, though something sparkles in the air when he opens his mouth. Does he have a spiritual quality, this beautiful merman? He certainly has a magnetic attraction not only for Marianne but also for Alan, who lusts after him.
That's one side of this tidal tale. Back on dry land, the Museum of Everything That Matters has been condemned by those who think that nothing matters. An inventory of its dwindling contents reveals surreal collections of weather, lovingly preserved in glass cases, and long-lost memories catalogued in wooden drawers. A computerised test of British citizenship that throws up increasingly banal questions delights the earnest curator, Bea, Middle-England-conditioned. Yet even she shows hidden depths in the audio diary in which she is recording each stage of the crumbling descent of her beloved museum into the sea.
Meanwhile, the anonymous voice of the DJ drones on, broadcasting from a boat that is floating somewhere and nowhere, buoyed by an endless tide of news of missing persons and the odd tortoise.
In Jon Spooner's production, Sarah Belcher brings humanity to the role of Marianne, while Nathan Rimmel's Alan clearly wishes that charity began anywhere but home. A more conclusive ending might have compensated for the lack of any governing passionate idea, and even a hint of resolution with the departure of the enigmatic visitor would have been welcome. But in the play's quirky world of missing people and lost souls, you just have to go with the flow.
Contact Theatre, Manchester (0161-274 0600) tonight and tomorrow; Warwick Arts Centre (024-7652 4524) 2 and 3 November; Theatre Royal, Bath (01225 448844) 4 to 6 November Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-228 1404) 10 to 13 November; Crucible Studio, Sheffield (0114-249 6000) 17 to 20 November
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