Pub theatre: Vincent River at the Landor
The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar

Ditch at the Old Vic Tunnels

Pg-16-ditch_382285t The Leake Street approach to the tunnels beneath Waterloo Station, which the Old Vic has leased as performance space and is showing new play Ditch is strangely appropriate. You see Ditch is set in a grim, war-ravaged not too distant future and Leake Street runs under the railway lines, daubed from floor to ceiling in graffiti and populated with small groups of men just hanging around in a slightly intimidating manner and those looking for a quick place to urinate.

You could set up a camera and some lights and start shooting a sequel to The Road.

And it gets better. The entrance to the tunnels is a graffiti daubed door with one fly poster indicating the play and once inside it is cold, crumbling and damp. There are a series of installations to view prior to the play (pics in an earlier post here) one has a dead hare hanging above a pool of fake blood and another a series of 'bloody' sheets hung up to look like hides.

The play itself is performed on a circular dirt pit, its circumference is a shallow ditch of water. The programme doubles as a copy of the play and new playwright Beth Steel instructs the actors to interact with the mud, to get it on them during the play. And they do, although I think trying to mop it was maybe a little bit of a stretch of the interaction or maybe that was just the OCD in me kicking in.

It is a very atmospheric setting for a story about human survival after society and life as we know it today has broken down. It tells of four soldiers at some remote outpost in the Lake District who's job it is to round up 'illegals'. They are looked after by Mrs Peel and Megan who do the cooking and cleaning.

In the trailer (at the end of the post) Mrs Peel does this little speech about how "we don't talk about the past here" and indeed they don't much. You learn snippets about flooding, fighting over pipes abroad and people being forced to live in crowded cities. It mirrors how much the characters can glean about what is going on  outside their outpost. 

It is about physical and emotional survival, living on rations and what they can grow or catch while waiting for news, for something to happen, some sort of progress towards a better life.

But despite the amazing setting and stage and a great bit of acting, I didn't feel it was saying anything particularly new or different or thought-provoking. There is one scene of young finger-wagging at old for letting it get like this but that's about it. Performed on a more conventional stage the script would have to work harder I feel.

As a theatrical experience it is certainly different and now you can get cheaper tickets (slightly galled to get home, having paid £25, to see an email offering £12 tickets) I'd recommend it. Do take a warm jumper along and make use of the blankets they provide, which I sadly discovered only at the end when I was quite chilled through. (The bar is quite cosy though so head there in the interval to defrost.)

What the professionals thought:

The Indy gave it four stars and thought it an impressive play and production

The Londonist doesn't do ratings but thought the actors were better than the script and the theatre more interesting than the play which is I guess what I was trying to say. I also agree the Dearbhla Molloy who plays Mrs Peel is an Irish Helen Mirren and quite apt because the bloody installations reminded me of the first Prime Suspect

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph gave it three stars and liked the play but thought the setting was too urban for a play supposedly set in the Lakes. The Telegraph also has this short behind the scenes video which gives a sneak peak and a bit of a explanation of the installations and the set.