Review: A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre - a tough but compelling watch
Review: Private Lives, Donnmar Warehouse - odd choices make for difficult watch at times

Review: Sea Creatures, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs - a strange and unsatisfactory mix

Grace Saif with Tom Mothersdale in Sea Creatures_credit Marc Brenner
Grace Saif with Tom Mothersdale in Sea Creatures, Hampstead Theatre, April 2023, Photo: Marc Brenner

Cordelia Lynn's play is set in an old fisherman's cottage, which has been extended over the years and now includes a glass-fronted kitchen area from where you can take in the view of the sea.

The cottage and its contemporary extension are a bit like its inhabitants: A modern family with a love of old stories and myths full of sea creatures like mermaids and selkies.

It's a holiday retreat owned by Shirley (Geraldine Alexander), a professor who doesn't like anyone in her office unless invited.

Her partner Sarah (Thusitha Jayasundera), is an artist who paints urban landscapes when she is in the country and the country when she's in the city. Toni (Grace Saif) is Shirley's youngest daughter and 'consciously naive' (she behaves like someone much younger), and her sister George (Pearl Chanda) is unhappily pregnant.

Then there is the third sibling Robin, whose whereabouts is unknown. Her boyfriend, Mark (Tom Mothersdale), is staying in her room in the hope that she turns up.

And that's kind of the play, the wait and the whereabouts of Robin.

The inhabitants of the cottage are an odd mix of ordinariness and kookiness, like the play. It is, in many senses, a typical summer with swims, walks and evenings of charades (not as fun to watch as it is to take part, perhaps).

Mixed in are the old stories and tales of the sea, often dark and romantic.

The pace of life is languid, as you would expect during a hot summer, but the play is languid too.

There are bursts of conversation, comings and goings to make tea or toast and a lot of sitting around. It is a slow filling of time, one in which Mark tends to cook, doing everything by hand: "Once I made 32 meringues whisking manually". There is a lot of cooking and food talk.

Mark likes to show off his knowledge and skill yet seeks reassurance elsewhere. He has dark fantasies where he inflicts pain on others and himself but to what end?

And that is the primary problem; the play lacks a cohesive direction and doesn't manage to marry the more poetic elements with the everyday. At one point, in an elevated moment of 'kookiness', two lobsters 'escape' across the kitchen floor. They are toys on wheels pulled by a string, and I'm not sure if we are supposed to believe they are real. 

For all the talk and the metaphorical mythical stories, the characters feel under-explored, and the mystery of Robin is unresolved.

Sea Creatures is a well-acted but unsatisfactory watch. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️ and a half stars.

Sea Creatures, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Written by Cordelia Lynn

Directed by James McDonald

Running time 1 hour 50 minutes without an interval

Booking until 29 April, visit the Hampstead Theatre website for more information and tickets.

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