Gold Coast should demand attention. Written by Louise Gooding, who has experience as a Radio 4 playwright, and with the award-winning (and sold out) Theatre 503 as the setting, this play sets high expectations. Sadly, despite a compelling subject matter – the trickle down effects of both Gulf Wars – it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Joe and Roz – played by Tommy Burgess and Olivia Bromley – are a happy couple who have just started a family, until their lives are changed beyond recognition by Joe’s experience as a soldier in Iraq. Joe returns scarred by PTSD, just as his father who had served in the same region years before, and the picture-perfect setting unravels.
It’s a simple, but powerful tale, that should be politically charged, but as the play goes on, the writing tries to feed in too many supporting stories – such as snogging therapists in Iraq (Josephine Rogers and Jeremy Drakes), and Roz and their now 13-year-old daughter Lisa’s move to Australia. Although this leads to one of the best moments of direction where Joe and Lisa communicate from two sides of the same table over Skype.
Tommy Burgess is Gold Coast’s saviour. His performance as the tortured Joe, balances guilt and innocence, love and self-loathing, fear and strength. It is one of those rare moments where the actor ceases to be himself, and the audience is transfixed in suspended belief.
Sadly, the others, while offering glimmers of talent are overshadowed by Burgess. Bromley is a slightly stilted Roz. While she captures something of the pain of having her life put on hold by her PTSD-suffering husband, that genuine fire is missing. That said she is far more impressive when she jumps forward to playing the role of their daughter, Lisa. Here, Bromley seems to feel more comfortable and this is reflected by the chuckles that emanate, on cue, from the audience.
It must be mentioned that Rogers shows great promise (and a craic-ing Irish accent) as Simone, the eccentric therapist-cum-sex-healer, but frankly it is a plot distraction that perhaps we can do without. The question of sex, whether it be with Joe’s therapist, the impotence he experiences when he comes back from war, or even the scene which suggests Joe was groomed by a paedophile after his father’s death, is pertinent, but despite a myriad of references, it is never properly tackled and becomes too diluted to have real impact.
Gold Coast is by no means bad, but you leave feeling slightly confused. This is Joe’s story, yet despite a remarkable performance from Tommy Burgess, the surrounding fanfare and gimmick become too much of a distraction.
Gold Coast is playing at Theatre 503 until 17 February 2018.
Photo: Bernadette Baksa