Vessel[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)

A storm in the darkness, the roar of the sea and a boy in the water: Vessel’s opening moments set the tone for the physical theatre sections that return throughout, as well as the haunting, ever-present sound of the sea that pervades it. An ensemble cast entertain and impress in this promising piece of new writing from Peter Cary.

A little like Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel, Jacob’s Room, the central character of Vessel, around whom the action pivots, remains resolutely absent throughout. Cary paints a picture of a troubled Irish family through the interactions between five of its six siblings. The sixth, John, the most confident and troubled in the bunch, disappeared ten years ago after the death of their abusive father. The remaining siblings gather round the space John left behind and try to make something from his absence, to construct something together: a boat.

The cast are likeable with a strong chemistry, as they act out memories from their childhood, taking it in turns to ‘play’ John, to remember him best and to claim him. Though they struggle with the Irish accents here and there, which can be distracting, it doesn’t take too much away from these simple, naturalistic performances, broken up by tightly-rehearsed physical theatre. Jacob Hayes is particularly nice as the youngest sibling, who knew his absent brother the least but seems to understand him the most; he plays John with a brittle delicateness that is wholly believable.

Playing with memory and evocative of childhood games, Vessel builds up a clear picture of the siblings’ shared childhood, spent first in Ireland and then eventually in England, where their mother was born. Cary’s script is occasionally a little navel-gazing, but the conceit, in which the flashbacks we see are actually being created, experienced and argued over by the characters themselves, works nicely. Cary also has a great ear for dialogue; each of his characters is clearly and simply defined, and you can easily believe in their having a life beyond this scene or this stage.

Though tightly rehearsed, the physical theatre does not always have a clear meaning or position in the script; sometimes it’s hard to work out just what all that rope-pulling and keening is supposed to signify. There’s certainly plenty that can be tightened and refined here, but Fine Frenzy Theatre has a piece of theatre that is, at its core, gripping, moving and well-made.

Vessel can be seen at 21.05 at theSpace on North Bridge, every day until 24 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.