It’s not difficult to imagine that forgotten and faded British seaside towns might be depressing and uninspiring places in which to grow up. House of Orphans & The Unholy Mess’ production The Retreat has this idea at its foundation in a story of secrets, claustrophobia and repression.
Successful chef Nick has taken his girlfriend Flora on a break to the seaside town in which he grew up. When Nick’s childhood friend Curtis arrives unexpectedly on the scene, their tense reactions to one another highlight a secret and troubled past.
At the beginning of this dynamic, the characters’ reactions to one another make for an intriguing relationship: Nick (Paul Irwin) is extremely anxious in the presence of Curtis (Danny Ryder), who is sinister and brooding beneath his faux-cheerful exterior.
The fact that the pair share a dark secret couldn’t be clearer if there were flashing neon lights above the stage spelling it out. With the audience chomping at the bit from the outset to know the details, the narrative barely moves for the rest of the show until the eventual climax when all is, at last, revealed.
The performers work hard to keep things going. Ryder as Curtis bubbles with a passive aggressive energy, genuinely threatening as he preys on Flora and Nick. Edwina Lea is sweet as dreamy shop assistant Ellie, a poignant embodiment of unfulfilled ambition with a lovely line about listening to "California Dreamin’" over and over on her ipod.
Despite this, Jenni Herzberg’s script expects a few too many leaps of faith from its audience, not least that any woman emerging from the shower would welcome a stranger who had broken into the premises professing to be her lover’s best friend, and why she doesn’t just ask her boyfriend why he’s so extremely nervous around Curtis.
The Retreat is a piece with a good premise, interesting themes and great potential. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t credit its audience (or its characters) with much intelligence.