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The Deep

Jón Atli Jónasson (translated by Brian FitzGibbon)
Presence Theatre and The Embassy of Iceland in association with International Performing Rights
Embassy of Iceland

Based on a real life event, this nearly hour-long monodrama presents one man’s experience of shipwreck and his struggle for survival. He’s an Icelandic fisherman who wakes up on an ordinary workday, leaves the house to join his boat and is soon asleep in his berth.

As he tells us, he is tall and he’s heavy so he has to be very careful as he goes down the stairs for every one he steps on creaks and he might wake his parents. It is a sharing of the intimate details of departure: the guzzling of milk from a carton, too rushed to reach for a glass, his mother at the top of the stairs as he leaves. As he passes the house of the girl he’s in love with, though he’s never told her, he imagines the brush of his beard bristle on her cheek if he kissed her.

Once aboard, there’s the male stink of his berth, he doesn’t bother with the cover his mother has laundered with his neatly pressed clothes but just crawls under the duvet. Then suddenly he is woken in a maelstrom of duvet and objects.

Director Jack Tarlton has staged this special performance in-the-round in an ordinary room in the Icelandic Embassy under ordinary room lighting, the performer (with script near to hand) already lying on the floor in the middle. There are no lighting or visual effects, no scenery: just a lightly-bearded man in tracksuit trousers and an inside-out top who has got dirty feet, his voice and then, introduced at first very subtly, there is David Gregory’s sound score.

Samuel Edward-Cook is the actor and he delivers a direct and fully felt performance, the script he still holds somehow helping projection. From the relaxed, half-asleep opening which reveals so much about this man, he is tipped into the sudden realisation that he’s in a ship that is sinking.

We’ve heard the ship creaking, the engine noise, waves lashing and then a sudden blow, echoing. He’s soon underwater and needs air, he makes for an oven that will release some, finds his way upward and to a window he breaks with a fist, glass and blood everywhere. Then he is out and, lungs bursting, makes the surface to a great cry that he realises is his whole body screaming.

There are men clinging on to the hull. The younger dives back into the water, down into the ship to search for his father; he doesn’t return and the other man doesn’t last long. The survivor starts swimming.

The atmosphere now changes. Alone in the water, the lights of his home village in the far distance and not getting any nearer, he sees a bird above and begins a conversation. “Am I starting to talk like a ghost?” he asks himself.

Whether thinking about the car he is importing from Switzerland when he has paid its final instalment, about finally telling his feelings to his dream girl, planning what he would leave to the children of his dead shipmate or thrashing through the water in a last burst of energy to try to reach dry land, Edward-Cook shares this fisherman’s difficult journey with every one of his audience, creating powerful theatre in a non-theatrical setting.

This impressive achievement launches a new project by Presence Theatre that it has called “Diplomatic Community”. At a time when some nations are building walls (sometimes literally) to keep other out, its aim is to create bridges and foster a dialogue between countries' cultural and administrative bodies by inviting people from diplomatic and artistic communities to meet and discover the best in classic and contemporary international writing.

The support of the Icelandic Ambassador has helped them make a fine start but if they are going to produce work in this way they should not limit their performances to diplomatic circles. We see too little of the drama—and especially contemporary writing—from other countries. While perhaps using diplomatic support as a launchpad, they should make this work available to the wider public.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton