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The Deep (Bristol)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The Deep opens with a man waking from a vivid dream, we hear the sound of waves lapping and the auditorium appears to be filled with a gentle sea-mist swirling across the stage. This simple but effective opening immediately lulls me in so I forget my surroundings and feel as if I am watching a dream-like snap-shot of one man’s life and possible death.

Graeme Maley’s loose translation of Jon Atli Jonasson’s brief but vivid monologue re-sets the real-life inspired action from Icelandic waters to the North Sea off the Scottish Coast. The change of location feels perfectly natural and I suspect apart from the differences in language these two fishing communities share a great deal in common.

The monologue starts with the young central character narrating his preparations for a long stint fishing aboard a 300-tonne trawler and explores his seemingly simple life on land and at sea. The dialogue paints a vivid and lyrical picture of the rest of the men on-board – particularly well painted is the small sea-weathered father and his huge hulking son. The characters he speaks of feel familiar but without ever slipping into broad stereo-types.

In his portrayal of a man with everyday dreams – putting a down payment on a car, asking a local girl out on a date – Joshua Manning’s tour de force performance is completely believable. The dialogue has an authentic flow to it whilst mixed with a gentle lyrical quality. The play could have gone down the easy route of sentimentalising the character but instead the writing and Manning’s acting creates a man who is fully rounded and naturally engaging.

The voyage described in the monologue starts off in a fairly routine way with the men working or nursing hangovers below deck. On waking from a nap the character’s world is literally and figuratively turned upside down. His transformation from a man carrying out his familiar routines to a man dealing with a catastrophe and contemplating his own mortality is beautifully handled.

A complaint, which I rarely make about plays, is that I wanted it to be a little longer. The pre-disaster atmosphere on the vessel is really engaging but I feel this glimpse of the men’s lives doesn’t give enough time to get across what working in such gruelling and dangerous conditions would really be like. It would also be rewarding to spend a little more time exploring the relationships between the men in-order to create more empathy for their eventual fate. This though is a minor quibble and it also shows that I really want to spend more time hearing this character speak about the people and the life he knew.

With his subtle but tight direction Iain MacDonald manages to create both a realistic and meditative atmosphere throughout which draws you in and holds your attention right until the stage lights fade. The mood is enhanced by Halla Groves-Raines’ sparse but effective set design – netting and storage containers – and Owain Davies’ brilliantly evocative lighting as well as some well chosen music.

The production shows that you don’t need an elaborate set or a stage full of actors to produce a piece of theatre which lingers in the mind long after the play has finished.


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