In Jonathan Crewe's play Under the Radar, journalist Lee Stilling (Eleanor Hill) is profiling inventor Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe), who has built his own submarine. She is accompanying him on his two-day maiden voyage, and it will be her big scoop.
The first act starts ostensibly as an interview. However, the notebook and pen are quickly forgotten as the two drink their way through a bottle of some home-distilled liquor of Martin's. It turns out both Lee and Martin have daddy issues, and both want to prove themselves.
But the signs are fairly obvious that this isn't going to be about two strangers alone together comparing lives and working out their problems. There are Chekhov's guns all over the place, such as Martin's expressed desire for power and how he likes being on his submarine because he can make the rules. He stops drinking while continuing to top up Lee's glass and questions her about her looks and how it's impacted her career.
As the conversation about male-female relationships develops, more of Martin's gender bias is exposed, eventually turning into a darker, violent misogyny.
This leads to an utterly bizarre supernatural third act which, visually at least, had me thinking about Beckett's Happy Day. Is this the 'darkly comic' bit as described in the play notes?
When you've had acts of male violence towards a woman described in graphic detail in a previous scene, it's hard to find anything funny.
The acceleration of events between acts 2 and 3 is so rapid that Lee's response is glossed over. Is that what necessitated the odd final act: to give her a voice?
Reflecting on the submarine setting, it turns out to be merely a device to get the two alone and isolated with no phone signal. Other than brief references at the start about the right terms to use (a submarine is a boat, not a ship), the submarine seems to be on autopilot for the entire trip.
It is similar to Lee's role as a journalist; aside from a notebook, she seems ill-equipped to do an interview - no laptop or dictaphone to record the conversation. The fact that she turned up for an overnight work trip with just a handbag also felt strange.
Such detail perhaps wouldn't matter if the play was less disjointed and knew what it wanted to be. Is it a subtle exploration of unconscious bias or exposure of toxic masculinity and male violence? Is it a dark comedy, a thriller or a horror?
There is a lot to say about gender bias and misogyny, but in Under The Radar, it gets submerged.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️.
Under The Radar, Old Red Lion Theatre
Written and directed by Jonathan Crewe
Running time: 90 minutes with an interval
Booking until 2 April visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website for more details
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