A follow-up after a smash hit can always be difficult and while Breach Theatre’s Tank is good; it sadly lacks the impact that they managed to illicit with last year’s The Beanfield. Taking on a whole new challenge with the Dolphin House experiments of 1965, Breach uses a clever mix of a well-written script and technology to tell the story of Margaret Lovatt. A plucky young thing, Margaret walks right into a job with a team of researchers attempting to teach dolphins to speak English. Breach set the scene well with a movie scene style story of Margaret’s journey to the front door of the research centre and continue this throughout, highlighting the almost dream like way that she manages to conduct her lessons with the dolphins.
There are enough quips to keep the audience smiling but very rarely did the company manage to tempt a laugh from them. Perhaps it was just too early or perhaps the humour was so wrapped up in explanations it became hard for us to decipher between their satirical points and their comedic presentation of it. Having said that, ‘science noises’ is exactly how I’d describe a lot of what happens in a lab…
The descent into the complete madness of the experiments themselves is cleverly done with Breach exploring head researcher John Lilly’s work with LSD and the dolphins and Lovatt’s own need to manually stimulate her adolescent dolphin Peter, in order to reduce his increasingly aggressive tendencies. One particularly awkward moment sees Margaret, played by Victoria Watson, describing quite a drawn out explanation of exactly how Peter is going to kill her. To work out where it was trying to go was a challenge and this was soon overshadowed by an intense discussion about the standard practice of masturbating animals in captivity. However, how the group presented the original media furore over the knowledge of Lovatt and Peter’s sexual relationship was very shrewd. Presenting it as a love story and how that would have been portrayed showed intelligently how such things can be so easily twisted.
While there were witty and astute observations made throughout the piece I feel that there was a slightly slicker way in which this fascinating material could have been presented to us by such an obviously talented cast.
Tank is playing at Pleasance Dome until 20 August. For more information and tickets see the Pleasance Theatre website.