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Invisible Storms

Dan Muirden
The Cock Tavern Theatre
(2009)

Publicity photo

The Polish invasion that begins this play about sinking farms and bent Government ministers is smaller in scale - a fraudulent Pole muscles her way into a West Hampstead home - but just as ill-intentioned as the German gambit of WWII.

The narrative is initially spliced. Katya is desperate to fill the vacant cleaner position at the Barnham household - which is Conor, an employee of the Environment Agency, and his stern and conservative mother. The extent of Katya's desire for the position is unnerving, and the guile she employs to get it is skilled and ample. In the role of the crafty intruder, Sarah-Louise Young is worryingly at ease.

Cut against this urban scenario is a rural affair. Siblings Cat and Richard are dealing with the suicide of their father; a tragedy brought on by the government's continuing refusal to address the precarious situation (owing to rising sea levels) of the family farm. The link is at first remote - Conor, in his role at the EA, sanctions the building of sea walls, Cat and Richard need such a wall to safeguard their home - but it soon grows significant and sinister as stakes rise and disguises thaw.

Carrie Jones, as Mrs.Barnham, has the presence of a menopausal Judi Dench, and is convincing in her aloofness and mild xenophobia. (I say mild but at one point she slaps Katya for daring to suggest that Conor is in love with her.)

The three male actors all seem to have studied at the Ricky Gervais School of acting. Their quirky mannerisms and boyish responses - particularly Hywel John's Max - often grate against the gravity of the moment. Harper's direction strikes as extremely liberal, and whereas the female cast members are apt not to abuse this licence, the boys seem to exploit it so to parody their favourite sitcom characters. This creates a dual discrepancy: between the male and female members of the cast, and between the mood of the scene and the style of the acting.

Invisible Storms promises – from the title at least - to further delineate an inconvenient truth. Yet the play does not interrogate existing conceptions or reservations about climate change. We are reminded that bureaucracy is a political bore and that corruption stains all facets of governmental policy, and it is made clear that economics trumps ethics. The writers are smart to avoid haranguing their audience, but have avoided it so well that we come away unaltered and unchallenged.

Of course, an environmental agenda may not have been the play's raison d'être. If this is the case then the plot seems almost arbitrary and its thematic bric-a-brac (grief, greed, revenge) underdone.

There are redeeming moments. The scene wherein Conor and Katya first kiss is very well played and directed, and its looseness and sincerity show just what can be achieved when acting and direction are allowed to be organic and capricious. Also, Katya's understanding of Conor as a "builder with a snorkel" is effortlessly funny. But these moments of excellence are, unfortunately, just moments.

Until 30th May

Reviewer: Ben Aitken