Monday 20th August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden.
Ed Lees’ Into the Deep casts a wide net. It takes on mental health, familial relationships, gender roles, inter-generational struggle, financial struggle and the futility of ambition. Most of this subject matter is covered with insight and care in this production by Popcorn Productions, but some elements remain under-developed in the short running time of sixty minutes. Central to the narrative is three generations of disillusionment within the Lewin family; father, son and grandson navigate choppy waters in their relationships with each other and their lot in life. The narrative shifts between past and present to contextualise the contributing factors responsible for the moods or characters of the men depicted; we have men impacted by war, by poor mental health, by spousal bereavement, by the shifting expectations of men in the world, by local and national politics and by financial constraints. They must take their place within the family unit regardless, and the results are fractious. The approach to time shifts is well-conceived as atmospheric unstoppable forces using blackouts, torches and audio snapshots, and this works well for the most part. The father/son dynamics are engaging and raise the age-old debate over whether the cycles of experiences and choices are repeated or rejected over generations. Marlon, played by Ned Costello, is the youngest male in the three generations depicted – he’s the son of a flawed father who is the son of a flawed father. The expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps in profession within the fishing industry rather than temperament – but he has other ideas. Costello’s performance allows us to see Marlon’s light and dark moments as his hopes are raised and his relationships shift constantly beyond his control. His father, Thomas, played by writer Ed Lees, has the weight of the world on his shoulders and Lees’ performance makes the woes of this well-meaning but conflicted man credible. Lees gives a particularly notable performance when the tense shifts and he’s required to play a younger Thomas battling with his cantankerous father – a shift in expression, a head tilt and a changed tone are all that is required for Lees to bring out the quietened vulnerability of the insular grown man sitting there moments before. The grandfather, William, is less rounded as a character, with Lees’ writing treating him as a simplistic catalyst or a symptom of future problems rather than giving him the depth given to Thomas and Marlon. Chris Alldridge takes on a big challenge in playing an old man without the assistance of costuming or any other trickeries; as someone clearly in the same age band as the son, he makes the wise decision to throw all his might into adopting ageing physicality and voice, with a lip tremor we recognise as a tick of old age. It’s a dynamic of shaky credibility, but the more fiery scenes between Alldridge and Lees give the production that extra push into a fully enveloping illusion – when the emotions are heightened, the distracting visual incongruities so obvious in muted scenes are forgotten, showing that there’s real potential here.Within the mix there is also a daughter, Carla, played by Polly Wain, who is more of a vehicle for telling the male-centred stories than anything else. As this narrative centres around male relationships and toxic masculinity, this seems logical, but it does mean that there’s a whole area of this play which feels outlined rather than filled, particularly as the daughter is a key source for depicting a struggle with mental health. There’s also only passing attention given to rural life and its challenges, narrowing the available material to deliver the depth suggested by the marketing – everything promised makes an appearance, but there are elements which could elevate the piece as a whole if they were invested in more deeply.
Into the Deep brings important, contemporary issues to the stage. The inter-generational focus is a strong and compelling feature, as is the rare attention given to male vulnerabilities in an ever demanding world. Performances across the cast deliver a probing set of questions around families and what we expect or demand from one another with great sincerity – it’s a drama in need of a little further development which might find a slightly longer running time fruitful, but it’s very much a worthwhile subject matter.
You have two more chances to catch Into the Deep at the Etcetera Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe – August 21st and 23rd 2018 and you an find tickets here.