Review: Tiny Dynamite (Old Red Lion)

Abi Morgan’s play is given a watery revival at the London fringe theatre

Originally written for physical theatre company Frantic Assembly 15 years ago, Abi Morgan’s Tiny Dynamite is, as its name suggests, a little firecracker of a script. With short scenes that fizz through the tale of two childhood friends and how they come-to-terms with an unhappy past, the writing is sparse but shot-through with buckets of underlying meaning and tension.

Luce and Anthony arrive at a remote, rural cottage to try to fix Anthony up. It’s a regular thing: every so often Luce tracks Anthony down, picks him up off the street where he’s been living and gets him straightened out. Before their lives forked down very different roads, the two of them were once three. Three close friends who bounced off each other until an accident tore them apart. Into Luce and Anthony’s retreat comes a new third: someone who prompts a bubbling up of emotions and pain. Everything they have tried to bury begins to emerge.

Reviving the piece at the Old Red Lion pub theatre, director David Loumgair has swapped the gender of one of the lead characters: Luce is a woman, when originally she was a man. It’s a nice touch, and adds to the sexual complexity of the story.

The company has also tried to include an element of physicality, which presumably was a feature of the original production, but Natasha Harrison’s movement work doesn’t hold well on the small fringe stage. It is hindered by the fact that Loumgair has made the space even smaller by using a moat of water. It lops off a foot or so from the space and gives the actors very little to work within. What movement they manage to cram in feels slight. The staging itself is unnecessarily cramped.

And because of this, the changeover sections between scenes are laboured. Clearly, Loumgair has tried to make these as quick as possible, but there’s too much fiddling with props and chairs in amidst attempts at movement. It adds to the length of the play – an interval has been added so the whole thing is two hours – which means momentum and tension wane in the second half.

The performances are great, with Eva-Jane Willis particularly strong as Luce. Her status as friend, not lover, to Anthony is easily believed and the path to her eventual breakdown is convincing.

It’s not that small spaces can’t deal with movement sections: they absolutely can. But here the practicalities of the staging distract, meaning this evening feels much clunkier than it should.

Tiny Dynamite runs at the Old Red Lion until 3 February.