Tuesday 20th September 2022 at King’s Head Theatre, London.
Reviewer: Emma Dorfman
It’s hardly a surprise to see The Drought playing at a venue like The King’s Head. Mark Ravenhill, a champion of the piece as well as the theatre’s artistic director, has been in a spooky mood lately with last season’s The Haunting of Susan A. His predilection for the spooky continues with Nina Atesh’s brand-new, historical, dystopian horror play. Aided by a strong ensemble performance, a haunting score, and incredibly focused direction, The Drought enables us to question the value of our environment in relation to the very purpose of our existence.
The Captain (Andrew Callaghan) and Garson (Jack Flammiger), his steward, are ghostly figures on the verge of losing their last bits of sanity. They have been on a ship for three weeks—a ship without water beneath its hull. All water has vanished from the sea, and these are the last two characters that remain after the crew has disappeared, quite possibly because of a failed rescue mission. What is a captain without his crew? What is a ship without the sea? What would we be without the sea?
The ensemble cast (with Caleb O’Brien joining Callaghan and Flammiger as ‘Stranger’) does a brilliant job of endowing these massive, intangible, off-stage elements with a high level of importance. From this, we experience the full impact of the Captain’s loss. As he slowly, deeply inhales the last bit of remaining seawater, for instance, the lights focus on the glass container as if it were a heavenly angel. We see a man without a purpose. In fact, it almost seems as if the entire world has been made redundant through this singular, seemingly small loss.
Atesh’s writing brilliantly toes the line between a very Victorian, very gothic atmosphere and a subtextual questioning of our current climate crisis. The narrative itself doesn’t incite action, per say, but it inspires deep thought: How would a situation like this one affect our modern world? What has changed, and what has remained the same? What does it do to a human being to be made ‘redundant’ by a force entirely beyond man’s control?
Adding to these deep insights is a compelling score that makes the ship and the realities of the outside world (miles and miles of rotting carcasses of humans and fish, cold, harsh wind, no living souls in sight) come to life. Alex McCarthy’s careful, calculated direction, as well, makes the characters all the more sinister, the atmosphere all the more suspenseful. While this, at times, led actors to drag moments just a touch too long, it nonetheless added a much-needed focus and intensified energy that this work’s true subject matter deserves.
The Drought plays the King’s Head Theatre, London until September 24th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.