Theatre: Whale Riding Weather Drill Hall, London
Wednesday 07 May 1997
The nearly naked body stretched out on the chaise longue is that of Lyle (Ian Barritt), an elderly man living in a ramshackle house on Canada's East coast. His ex-wife has poisoned his son against him and his anger, age and infirmity have rendered him housebound, leaving him nothing to do but regale his much younger partner, Auto (a suitably tense, trapped Gregor Truter), with alcohol-assisted tales of his fancies and fears.
Last year, Melvyn Bragg woke up to gay theatre with his pronouncement that Albee's classic study of marital discontents, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was really about a gay couple. True or not (Albee has always denied it) shades of that play flit through Bryden Macdonald's Whale Riding Weather as the men measure out their lives with stories of their past and play games with the present, locked in a shared fantasy about their relationship. Into all this walks Auto's cute, seemingly flip pick-up Jude (a carefully controlled yet impressively relaxed Kal Weber). Against Bruce Gallup's evocative set of peeling plaster and seedy, homey elegance, the boys make love, an act which forces all three to confront their demons and the ties that bind.
Despite such a standard plot structure, Macdonald pulls back on action and majors instead in reverie and reminiscence. Lyle's bitter scepticism lends the writing a wry wit. Brandishing his glass, he announces, "This is just cranberry juice... and, if you believe that, I've got a small cock." The prevailing tone, however, is self-consciously poetic and static. Macdonald sets up dialogues with moments of theatrical potential - quasi- comic moments of coitus interruptus - but he sacrifices momentum to the dramatically risky seductions of memory.
Director Graham Callan faithfully follows his lead, letting his actors give the text its full measure, but you yearn for a faster pace, a more varied rhythm to make up for Macdonald's unwillingness to capitalise on the drama.
In the play's closing moments, the image of the sea rears up from the text and is made manifest, but it's a little too late. When Auto resolves to leave, he begs Lyle to fight and throw dishes. "I've thrown them all," intones Lyle, archly. "I'm dishes-less." For all the play's meditations on youth, age and self-acceptance, you can't help wishing the dramatist had opted for more dishes and less dish.
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