‘Are you ready for the time of your life?’, ask the Housemartins over and over and over again from a glitchy radio. The scene is set for Caravan of Love, Tom Daldry’s play that poisons, warps and weaponises the sentimental and pressurised notion of love and time until it no longer makes sense at all.
Some way into their bleak caravan honeymoon in the West of Ireland we find a husband and wife whose insidious jealousy, repetitive routines and ultimately toxic relationship torment them down to a melodramatic shell of their realities and expectations.
Just as the radio tunes in and out of signal, the eccentric Hitchhiker, played by Patrick Kealey (who also directs), slides in and out of materiality for the other characters in a ghostly and antagonistic way that seems to rather take them for a ride. With ‘Man’ (Oliver Parnell), ‘Woman’ (Oriana Charles) and ‘Hitchhiker’ never being addressed by actual names, and with their realities never quite aligning, it’s clear that these relationships barely exist at all. However, stripped down to abstract and confused contexts, my grip on the couple’s history is loose and thus a little sceptical and uninvested.
Tom Daldry’s script is minimal and poetically repetitive: recycled dialogue leads the characters through loops of imitation that distill a shared, and yet detached experience in isolation. However, the difficulty of this form is that sensitive and complicated themes of abuse are sometimes overly (or even confusingly) simplified through cliché language and vague contexts.
Similarly to the script our set is minimal, but a carefully constructed wooden frame in the shape of a caravan (marked with scribbled dimensions) thoughtfully maps the exact degree of physical isolation felt by the couple at a thematically relevant moment in time for the audience.
Kealey’s direction is at its strongest when it commits to the rest of the production’s more minimalist style. Simple choreographic moments, like a repeated sequence where the couple sip from their mugs in perfect synchronisation, are the most effectively unnerving in representing their tandem deterioration. It’s the more ‘modern’ moments of symbolic choreography and dramatic lighting, however, that loosen my connection with the script and its sincerity.
The range of Charles’s acting as ‘Woman’ is the most notably dimensional of the performances. The expressive subtlety of her face is ever-captivating, prompting the most genuine emotional investment towards any of the characters.
However, the most arresting element for me is Seisha Butler’s sound design. Atmospheric sounds effects, including an ever-present, maddening drip sound, are well-balanced and work well in absorbing the audience into the sadistic world of the play. The music, a nostalgically sentimental soundtrack re-mixed with heavy modern hip-hop beats, cleverly supplements the on-going narrative of a controllingly confused relationship with time (epitomised in Man’s refusal to bring back a newspaper for his wife).
The way that Sam Sharples’s film projections jerk around the skeletal lines of the set is also quite compelling, if, at times, overly stylised. But, in the end, the winding roads that add ghostly movement to the characteristically static scene of the caravan leave the most memorable impression.
Caravan of Love is playing at Brighton Fringe until October 11. Tickets are available from Brighton Fringe’s website.