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[Review:] DROWNING ON DRY LAND, Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre, London.

Drowning on Dry Land, written by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Paul Tate, and performed at the New Wimbledon Studio.

There is honestly not much to say about this performance, as simply a small amount of the notes I made applied to its entirety.

I shall start with the set, lighting and sound effects. The set comprised a dining table on top of a large square patch of grass. On the dining table, a plate of cookies, a Hello magazine. Jutting out into Upstage Right, a curving brick wall (the side of a 'tower') with two arches either side of it. Flowers. Trellises. Birthday bunting. This combined with the sounds of birds tweeting, we get the impression we are outside, and with classical music playing, we find ourselves in the garden of an upper-class family. Effective. This light was perhaps too harsh, however, creating not only boiling temperature but a very bright illumination of the entire front row - things to be considered in tech. Nighttime, produced by a dimmer light yet accompanied by the same dawn chorus…at what is inferred as dusk. Furthermore, there were the ringtones later on in the performance which were produced behind the audience, sounding like a spectator's mobile, taking away completely from the scene. On to narrative.

The plot of this play was highly convoluted, starting with a focus on the falling marriage of a celebrity couple and ending with a jump towards a lawsuit against sexual assault. A lot seemed to be going on in this play, but this contrasted greatly against the enthusiasm with which it was performed. The best notable performances came from Janine Pardo, playing Charlie Conrad's wife, Philip Gill, Charlie's lawyer, and Louise Devlin, an investigative journalist. Other characterisations seemed either weak or incoherent. It seemed that the actors did not understand their lines at points, delivering them blandly or, at times, without needed emphasis - and that's ignoring the many trip-ups and false starts. I found Malcolm Jeffries's characterisation particularly blurred and hard to read - not in a mysterious, alluring way. Although I found Olivia Busby's physicality strong, her character funny, her sudden change towards a hysterical and troubled disposition in the second act was very incomprehensible and incoherent for me. It seemed to have come from nowhere and did not reflect her previous characterisation.

Whilst I cannot speak for the entire audience, and whilst there were certainly the few sporadic, echoed guffaws throughout the performance from certain spectators, another audience member with whom I spoke voiced my view well in stating, “I just don't get the point of it all. I'm waiting for something to happen.” I, too, felt that the energy was very low in this performance. Scenes were highly conversational (which, of course, is not objectively a bad thing), but, here, there seemed to be no events, no changes in the mood - minor discourses, yes, but no real threaded development of narrative. And the set, only slightly tweaked throughout, fed into the stasis of this. But, this monotony was then paired with moments of near slapstick, wild and boorish outbursts which not only failed to change the tone but made the overall mood of the play confused, sitting somewhere between naturalism and absurd humour. Even if this mix is coherent in the performance text, this was definitely not communicated on stage. Needless to say, the style that this play wished to achieve was extremely blurry.

My first impressions of this play gave me such hope: a giggling, outrageous duo of children running across the stage, taking selfies, hiding; an egotistical lady of the house condescending the children's entertainer she had hired with talk of her young ones' ponies and petrol-operated cars. Comical and intriguing. But from the end of this scene on, everything felt lacking, low-energy and lost. The charming, humorous duo became an overused, melodramatic and predictable cutaway that misbalanced the overall feel of the performance. I could infer that this play had the potential to be a lot more. Disappointing.

“Confused, convoluted and underperformed.”


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