Josep Maria Miró i Coromina, translated by Dustin Langan
Fox Trotter Theatre
Park Theatre 90
To an older generation it was natural for an adult to comfort a small child in distress, to give them the security of a reassuring cuddle and maybe a get-better kiss. Today, in a world alerted to ideas of child abuse and paedophilia, what once was an instinctive reaction may now be judged inappropriate behaviour and harmful.
With the publicity the media now gives to any case that might be construed as child abuse and concern about Internet contacts that disguise identity, perhaps it is not surprising that any perceived threat may produce a paranoid reaction from protective parents.
But how do we preserve supportive and affectionate reassurance when, mis-interpreted, it may bring condemnation? Where do we draw the line? Does there have to be a "don’t touch" rule or do we risk career and reputation?
This award-winning Spanish play, here getting its British première, explores this situation when a swimming instructor for young children comes under suspicion after a child claims she saw him kiss a frightened five-year-old too scared to take off his water wings.
Archimedes’ principle declares that when an object enters a fluid, whether fully or partly submerged, it is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid it displaces. Coromina’s play presents a similar displacement.
Whatever the truth of the accusation, it puts two contradictory interpretations in balance and asks whether, in our increasingly security-driven society, avoiding risk is worth shutting our humanity, and shows how fear can lead to persecution of the innocent.
An unspecified incident at a nearby youth centre has raised awareness and anxieties. Now this little girl says she saw trainer Brandon (Lee Knight) kissed the little boy, not just on the cheek as he does with others but on the lips. He denies it, but as in the old saying we all know “mud sticks”.
Coromina shows how an unlikely accusation can be given credence by a little lie about something else and how a niggling rivalry can colour judgement as fellow instructor Matt (Matt Bradley-Robinson) and pool manager Anna (Kathryn Worth) react to the situation.
When the boy’s father David (Julian Sims) turns up wanting confrontation, is his the reasonable reaction of a protective parent? Are the innocent being demonised as his suspicions prove contagious?
Archimedes’ Principle is not a polemic arguing degrees of regulation but a study of how people react to the situation, both individually and when organised into a group. The script says just enough about each character’s emotional background to enable the actors to flesh out their performances and Marta Noguera-Cuevas's direction keeps the truth always in question.
Knight gives Brandon a touch of arrogance and irresponsibility that undermines his otherwise caring nature and Bradley-Robinson lets you see Matt’s mind ticking over while Kathryn Worth’s uptight Anna struggles with balancing what she is told with what she wants to believe.
Chronology sometimes jumps backwards to replay a portion of a scene, a chance to reinterpret, and blackouts divide scenes to the loud and sudden sound of a body entering water, a dramatic explosion followed by underwater bubbling.
Sound designer Max Pappenheim captures the acoustic of a swimming pool and sound becomes part of the drama. With Cory Roberts’s simple setting of a couple of benches, lockers and glass brick wall panels, you could almost smell the chlorine.
While the specifics of the play refer to child protection and questions of sexuality, it raises much wider issues about jumping to judgement, decline of tolerance and restricted freedom.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton