reviewed at the Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester on 31 May
On the beach… beached up. Either way this is an emotive phrase. it balances the good, even the thoroughly enjoyable, against a sense of desolation, of being abandoned.
That is presumably why director Cara Nolan and designer Amelia Jane Hankin have set Oliver Bennett’s first full-length play – which won the theatre’s 2017 playwriting prize – on a sand-strewn surface with minimal furniture and a background which suggests taut fishing lines or the bars of a lobster pot.
At the start, this space is inhabited by three people. Will (James Alexandrou) seems to be its proprietor. Marta (Natasha Kafka) and her mother Yana (Anna Koval) have joined him; it transpires that they are Ukrainian refugees.
The time is the future, perhaps not-so-distant. Ukraine has been re-invaded by Russia. Populist (for which read right-wing) governments are everywhere taking power. Even in Britain, if the election we understand to be currently underway so dictates.
Enter Max (Simon Haines), a free-spirited, free-wheeling sort of man. His arrival is the trigger for personal, as well as political, revelations. There are crescendos of violence, very well spaced by the cast, but little sense of plot development running parallel to the personal.
Kafka’s Marta, using electronic media as a substitute for human interaction, is a recognisable type. So is Koval’s Yana, one of life’s born survivors.
The men are more formulaic, though Alexandrou shows us Will’s suppressed volcano of frustration, one for which he can find no verbal vocabulary. Haines’ Max is in many ways Yana’s masculine counterpart, though he lacks her innate integrity.
It all holds attention while it is being acted out before us. The compressed format, though it sustains tension, might perhaps not be diminished if expanded by another half-hour or so. That would allow for more background for both the characters and their political world.
Three and a half-star rating.
Europe After The Rain runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 9 June with evening performances on 2-9 June, an early evening performance on 1 June and matinées on 2, 7 and 9 June.