REVIEW - Sea Wall
This next instalment in blurring the lines between film and theatre claims to be the "closest thing to live theatre" and it certainly delivers. Deballify's 'Sea Wall' by Simon Stephens provided an absorbing 30 minutes of introspection guided by the character of Alex's thoughts. It left me wanting more whilst thankful for the release such an emotionally intense half hour. Henry Calcutt's strong portrayal of the lead 'Alex' was hugely engaging and carried emotional weight that has been sorely missed in the slew of zoom plays in the past year. This is also a testament to the thoughtful direction of Gregor Roach. The feeling of a deep-seated pain within the character came across within the discussion-like monologue; the separation of the screen adding a pleading loneliness.
As with any virtual production the camera plays a vital part in shaping the audience's perspective. Ollie Bradley-Baker's careful use of framing and movement allowed the monologue to thrive. The long take allowed the theatricality of the production to shine and, despite the natural separation due to the screen, emulated the experience of a black box theatre. This camera felt like a physical gaze, slowly following movement, reinforcing the emotional connection between viewer and 'Alex'. It gracefully added an air of understanding, allowing the viewer to feel as if this was a personal confession. Sadly I think that the footage was fighting with the YouTube compression algorithm resulting in an unfortunate pixellation at times and a maximum resolution of 720p. Thankfully there were only small moments where I felt like this detracted from the overall performance.
The lighting of the piece constructed three unique areas which the character moved between. The main central area was dominated by an eerie moonlight and with a background that fell off into the shadows created a strong sense of isolation for the character. Off to stage right a small lamp gave off a warm glow and was creatively used in moments to reflect feelings of comfort. The movement away from this lighting was always used to great effect and helped with the subconscious drive of the monologue. The third area, while similar to the first, where the actor could step out of the direct moonlight gave the opportunity to add a beat to the monologue resulting in a moment to contemplate what had just been said.
The music, composed by Arthur Campbell, mirrored the mixture of loss and love with soft piano pieces. The interplay of the actor's words and the music leading to the climax of the show pulled me even more into the emotions in the way that only music can do. Unfortunately, the echo in the space pulled me somewhat out of the theatrical feeling, but this is understandable given the space it was being filmed in. The balance in levels between the music and monologue was great, allowing both to work in harmony, neither one overpowering the other.
The marketing for this show relied heavily on a great interview with the writer of the piece. This is rarely done within Oxford drama and was both interesting and made me want to watch the show even more. However, beyond this interesting interview, other aspects felt as if they did not truly convey the strengths of the piece through its marketing. Graphics for this show, designed by Daisy Leeson, were striking but underused with videos making up the majority of marketing. Early video montages were released which, while interesting, were not immediately clear in their link to the show and made me check what it was trying to advertise at times. This was greatly improved upon by their final trailer containing Henry with his narration over the top. It created a much clearer sense of what the feeling of the production would be and was underscored by the same music that mirrors the themes of the show so well.
Overall, this production of 'Sea Wall' is a shining example of how virtual theatre does not need to lose its emotional depth. The simple and yet effective use of technical aspects enhance the production and allow the direction, acting and script to thrive. It was 30 mins very well spent and I congratulate the entire team on such an engaging show.
Written by - H. Dovell