‘Sea Wall’ was stormy.
THAT Production Company’s latest play is Simon Stephens’ monologue ‘Sea Wall’. Presented at Metro Arts New Benner Theatre, audiences were invited to share an intimate evening with Alex, a father and husband who has experienced an unspeakable tragedy.
‘Sea Wall’ is written by the award-winning playwright best known for ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’. The 45-minute monologue is a series of musings about family, life, spirituality and of course, the ocean. Generally presented as a double billing with another monologue, it was an interesting choice for director Timothy Wynn to present the piece as a stand-alone show. However, the performance felt a lot longer than 45 minutes and had the emotional weight of a full-length play.
Lighting design by Daniel Anderzipf served to enhance and heighten the emotion of the piece. The audience was plunged into a blackout that snapped into a fully-lit theatre, revealing Steven Rooke, as Alex, centre stage. The house lights were up, which allowed the audience to feel more connected to the character as if he was speaking directly to them. Over the course of the monologue, the lighting subtly dimmed, until the audience was in darkness and there was only a tight spotlight on Rooke. The transitions were subtle enough to be barely noticeable and mimicked the feeling of the world falling away as Alex plunged further and further into grief.
Sound design by Brady Watkins mirrored that of the lighting. When the lights were up, the theatre was silent. However, as the lighting dimmed and the emotions became more raw, tumultuous rumblings emanated from the walls of the theatre. This enhanced the action on stage without intruding on the spoken word being delivered by Rooke.
The set was very simplistic. A black wall with a black window centred upstage was the only piece used. It served to focus the attention on Rooke, however, at times the empty stage seemed vast and overwhelming, at odds with the intimate environment cultivated by the blocking and acting choices. It would be interesting to see the monologue delivered on a set that mimics a lounge room, so the audience really felt they were invited into the home and life of Alex.
Direction by Wynn was consistent. An empty stage proves challenging for blocking but Wynn made it work. The use of extended stillness during the opening lines created a relaxed and calm feeling, as juxtaposed to the frenzied movement later incorporated into the piece. The choice to have Rooke move to different areas of the stage when musing about different ideas gave some order to Alex’s muddled thoughts. The use of different levels also worked to keep the audience engaged and highlight the different emotions the character was experiencing.
Rooke’s portrayal of Alex was professional. He flawlessly maintained his Irish accent throughout the show and did not appear to stumble over any of his lines. His performance was polished and he embodied Alex well, conveying the character’s muddled train of thought with ease. Rooke brought moments of humour that lightened what would otherwise be a heavy monologue. His speaking and pace was clear and consistent and he was easily heard and understood.
Overall, ‘Sea Wall’ is an intense monologue that muses candidly on some of life’s biggest emotions. It is a show where feelings of love, life and loss are intertwined like seaweed in an ocean.
‘Sea Wall’ played at the New Benner Theatre for one weekend only. For more information, visit THAT Production Company’s website.