Review: Sea Life @ The Hope Theatre *****

The Hope Theatre’s first in house season starts with a bang, with Lucy Catherine’s Sea Life. And that’s not just the coffin lids slamming shut! A dark, comic masterpiece, the play is brought to life by Matthew Parker in its first staged production in London. Parker brings the play to life (no pun intended), thanks to some brilliant juxtapositions and an outstanding cast. Half the ‘cast’ maybe dead, but Parker’s production is alive and kicking! (pun fully intended)!

“When Eddie says, ‘There’s no escape’, you truly feel it. And why would you want to? You are part of the action.”

Faced with a failing pub, three siblings decide to make a bit of extra cash by doing an odd job on the side. And it is certainly an ‘odd’ job: burning bodies in their back yard. Dealing with an denied past and an unknown future, Catherine’s script is sharp and sensitive, poignant and well paced. Conversations dart back and forth between the mundane and the macabre. Where else would see a scene with a dead body immediately followed by one with a character donning a bike helmet with sandwiches tied to it?

From the very first scene, you are drawn in to these characters lives. This is also thanks to the theatre itself. The relationship between actor and audience is so heightened at the Hope, unlike any other Off West End theatre. So intimate is the staging, that when Eddie says, ‘There’s no escape’, you truly feel it. And why would you want to? In those two hours, you are part of the action. Another sibling, spirit, or Japanese tourist.

(c) Laura Harling LHPhotoshots (Vicky Gaskin left, Chris Levens right)
Vicky Gaskin as Roberta, and Chris Levens as Bob © Laura Harling

The transformation of the space never ceases to amaze me. Like the characters, the pub itself is stuck in the past: an old jukebox and paintings adorn the wall. The various dead paraphernalia are surprisingly realistic, so much so that one scene in particular draws gasps in shock. The set changes are a tad clunky and drawn out in the first half, but find their rhythm in the second, particularly in the movement piece at the end. Unafraid of provoking, Parker’s direction elicits both tears and laughter from the audience. The theme of the grief really is explored here unlike anything I have seen in recent years. The juxtapositions between a cremation service and an old pier organ playing the funeral march is brilliantly morbid! It’s moments like these, utterly absurd moments which Parker revels in.

(c) Laura Harling LHPhotoshots (Jack Harding).jpg
Jack Harling as Eddie © Laura Harling

Eddie is the overlooked older brother, but Jack Harding shines in the role. His intensity is at points moving and at other points terrifyingly true. Playing the charming and lovable Roberta, Vicky Gaskin opens and closes the show. There are moments where Roberta’s facade slips, which I would have liked to see played up more. Finally, Chris Levens plays Bob, Roberta’s twin brother. Levens utterly embodies the character and his anxiousness; nervously darting around the space, trying to escape or shrink into himself, his physicality is entrancing.

Verdict: an absurd adventure into grief, a must see. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder why on earth the person next to you is laughing while you’re crying!

Sea Life is playing until the 11th June 2016 at the Hope Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Hope Theatre’s website.

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