Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Sea and Land and Sky" - October 2010

By declining a much sought after ticket to Tuesday night’s Scotland vs Spain match I thought I would be avoiding that well known Scottish ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Who would have thought that the Tron's Open.Stage playwriting competition winner "Sea and Land and Sky" would prove that theatre can suffer exactly the same fate.

Reading the script for Abigail Docherty's play about Scottish nurses behind the front line in the Great War, it's not too hard to believe that it was the winning entry from over 300 submissions. It works very well on the page, and I can certainly imagine it being given a successful production. But sadly, this isn’t it. I don't think I've ever encountered a production with a direction and design so at odds with the tone of the script.

Despite its bleak topic the play reads like a farce with elements of the grotesque, and is almost Pythonesque at times. But with such a serious setting it's essential to quickly establish for the audience that it's acceptable for them to be laughing. And while there is humour early on, the individual laughs aren't sufficiently powerful to make you laugh-even-though-you-know-you-shouldn't, and there aren't enough of them in quick succession to build any momentum. Or at least, not without help from the other aspects of the production. However rather than enhance the comedic elements, the set, lighting, soundscape (including the silence) and even the publicity images, all contribute to signal to the audience that this is a sombre piece of drama and it should be viewed accordingly. As a result, despite the best efforts of a strong cast, many of the laughs fall dreadfully flat, and in the words of the audience member I spoke with at the interval, it makes for pretty "hard going".

Director Andy Arnold and his creative team appear to have chosen to present the play in an earnest style similar to the Tron’s 2008 production of “The Drawer Boy” when I think it would have benefited from something much more akin to their recent flamboyant treatment of “Valhalla!”. After a long process of launching the Open.Stage contest, selecting the winning play and bringing it to the stage, it's a tragedy worthy of the Scottish football team that the victory has been lost by a last minute own goal.

We received our tickets for the show through our membership of the Tron's Patrons scheme which we thoroughly recommend for anyone who is a regular attendee at the Tron.

Sea and Land and Sky runs at the Tron until 23 October
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission