Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

John Patrick Shanley
Caravanserai Productions
Phoenix Artist Club
(2010)

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Some 60 years after Edinburgh, London now has its very own Fringe Festival. It is perhaps ironic that this play, which opens the event, should be a gritty American drama rather than something home-grown.

This is also the first theatrical production to be presented at the Phoenix Artist Club, which occupies in the basement of the theatre where Blood Brothers has been playing for so long. While fringe venues are meant to be difficult, trying to stage an intimate play in a relatively small room behind a lively bar with only a curtain between is a mistake.

Throughout the hour-long production, the actors Amy Tez and Andy Jones found themselves competing with 100 or more happy drinkers and all too often, lost the battle to be heard clearly. This is a pity, since director Dominic Cazenove's debut production has much to commend it.

Danny & the Deep Blue Sea might sound like a children's fantasy but Shanley has entered Sam Shepard territory with this gritty piece. It is not entirely coincidental that Miss Tez, who is also Executive Producer, recently worked on Fool for Love since the two plays have so much in common.

The first scene takes place in a Bronx bar where two lonely outsiders are thrown together. Danny, who is also known as The Beast, hardly needs to explain that he has been in a fight with a bloodied eye and knuckles. He also thinks that he might have killed a man, just to reduce the self-esteem even lower.

Rather than avoiding contact, single mother Roberta, who has her own dark secrets and is something of a beauty if you are into allegory, sets out to seduce and tame her beast.

This is not easy, as he is so deeply damaged but eventually, she gets him to bed for an unlikely, alcohol-fuelled one night stand. The fun gives way to something deeper as the pair contemplate a future together and a chocolate box romantic marriage.

This gives John Patrick Shanley the opportunity to explore one of his favourite subjects, Catholic guilt, but also the way in which two intrinsically flawed personalities can come together and help each other towards goodness and absolution.

Both actors showed great commitment and managed to elicit considerable sympathy for characters who are not, on the surface, in any way likeable.

Overall, this is a successful start to a London Fringe Festival that must surely have every opportunity to grow at least the size of New York's equivalent, if not necessarily Edinburgh for a few decades yet.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher