Dare to Know Theatre
The Kings Arms, Salford
Drowning, the first play from new Oldham-based Dare to Know Theatre, is a sensitive examination of the complexities of coping with grief which does not shy away from pointing out the absurdities and humour that can arise at inappropriate moments.
Josh Turner (author and sole performer Jake Talbot) is a typical self-centred teenager. When peer pressure compels him to intervene and help a fellow pupil who is being bullied, he shamelessly exploits the situation to seduce an old girlfriend. But an unexpected tragedy compels Josh to re-think his shallow and judgemental attitude and puts him in the position of having to cope with an emotional overload. Although his mental health is deteriorating, a confused Josh struggles to realise he is not waving but drowning.
Talbot’s script is well-observed; describing in fine detail the rituals people use to come to terms with loss and the embarrassing efforts made to pretend everything is normal. A grief-stricken father trying to make casual conversation with the driver of a hearse. Talbot treads a fine line so we are never sure if the character of Josh will mature through adversity or succumb to the pressure of grief. The unexpected courage of people in mourning is acknowledged, and Josh’s growing empathy reflected, when he expresses admiration for his father helping his children endure the loss of their mother while putting aside his own feelings.
Talbot’s performance makes the audience sympathise with Josh in spite of his behaviour. Josh is portrayed as cocky and exploitative yet even at an early stage there is a possibility of his developing further. Josh’s reversion to his superficial approach after the tragedy is very much a confused defence mechanism against his loss.
Director Miranda Parker subtly develops the tone of the play. Initially, the atmosphere is somewhat boisterous and lively reflecting Josh’s laddish behaviour before the mood becomes darker and more reflective. At one point, Josh goes so far as to complain he feels like he is in a video by Coldplay.
Drowning realistically acknowledges the difficulty in identifying deteriorating mental health where rash actions by sufferers are not anticipated. Dramatically, however, although the play shows Josh’s confusion and distress, there is no momentum suggesting events are getting too much to endure. The conclusion, rather than seeming inevitable, becomes a shock as it seems contrary to events leading to that point.
Drowning is a thought-provoking and involving play making Dare to Know Theatre a welcome addition to the theatre scene.
Reviewer: David Cunningham