A sandcastle being built; someone swimming out into the sea and nearly drowning; a confrontation with incest and death. Ella Evans has not made it easy for the production team or the audience. The difficulties of staging are dealt with masterfully, with a film of the sea and shore forming the backdrop to the stark BT stage, and some ingenious touches to deal with the other problems. But the script is where the play occasionally lets itself down, with some beautiful images and writing tempered by some bits which just don’t quite work.
It takes a while to warm up, a pretty long while in fact. Cassie sits at the kitchen table, drunk. Her sister Ellen discovers her and they have an overly drawn out and quite mundane conversation: “You’re drunk!” “No I’m not!” etc. Slowly more details emerge. They’re meant to be attending a funeral in two hours. They haven’t seen each other for ten years. Cassie can’t drink coffee without sugar. But in this kitchen scene we don’t really warm to either character, Cassie petulant and childish, Ellen motherly, prim and easily shocked. Their relationship will grow and yield some very touching moments, but not until Ellen has the bright, if slightly incongruous idea of going to the beach to get some fresh air.
Some of the best dialogue comes when it is most realistic, and Evans certainly has a talent for capturing the way people speak. Cassie’s drunk speech is spot-on and all the more humorous for it, and when she is at her most passionate and angry, shouting at Ellen through her tears, you could almost forget this is scripted and not a spontaneous outburst. But other speeches, which on the page would read more like poetry, do not work so well on stage. When Cassie turns to the audience for her first very poetic soliloquy, it jars a little in juxtaposition with the realism of the conversation up to this point, and it doesn’t help that we are distracted by the stream of images flashing up behind her.
But as the play goes on and the plot thickens, it does get exciting. A new and intriguing element is introduced quite late on in the play which drives much of the later action. We empathise more and more with the characters as they open up to each other and their past and feelings are revealed. While inevitably upstaged by her sister, some of Ellen’s careful speeches are particularly beautiful, and it is a shame that much of her speech is mundane and ineffectual responses to wild Cassie; it is when she lets her guard down that their relationship becomes interesting to watch develop, and the play is all the better for it. Both parts are very well acted by Ruby Thomas (Cassie) and Cicely Hadman (Ellen).
This play is certainly worth seeing; despite the slow start and occasionally unconvincing speeches it does draw one in powerfully, and the bombshell revelations that are dropped are worth the excruciating wait. There are funny moments, moving moments and dramatic moments; a combination of the very bright talents of writer, director and actors.