Gulf marks the début performance of new company Pivot Theatre, whose mission is to create theatre that is “urgent and thrilling”, that “subverts expectations and shifts perspectives”. In terms of ideas and themes the troupe is tackling some interesting material, and there are some strong performances here; yet the piece needs to have clearer focus and build to something stronger if it is to become a powerful piece of theatre.
Jeff Scott and Alister MacQuarrie’s play follows mother and daughter Clara and Holly as they struggle to communicate. Clara’s job takes her into the darkest realms of human nature, which makes the relationship with her daughter more than usually fraught. However, with the audience kept in the dark about the nature of Clara’s work for nearly the whole production, the company misses the opportunity to build much tension as we’re largely unaware that this is anything more than an average parent-teenager dynamic.
Despite this, there are persuasive performances from Caroline Ward as Clara and Victoria Hamblen as Holly; both inhabit their characters with confidence and intelligence, providing strong leadership for the small ensemble. Their scenes have the most potential to drive the play and create a truly compelling experience, yet they are rather let down by a script that doesn’t give them the space to develop and push the boundaries. Their story is intercut by a number of other scenarios, not all of which add much to the action, and while the scenes in Clara’s office are cleverly staged, their repetitive nature doesn’t progress anywhere. Other episodes comprising the relationship between Ronald Nsubuga and Evie Beaven’s characters are not fleshed out enough to add much to the drama, instead detracting from the core plot that, on paper, could explore some fresh and exciting ideas.
Elsewhere Elliot Hall is convincing as Holly’s understanding teacher, while Nsubuga struggles with some poor diction that muddies his dialogue – it would be wise to take some more time over his lines to give them more clarity. Patrick Sale’s original score is at times effective but at others rather cringeworthy as the vocal number in particular seems an unnecessary intrusion into the action of the play. The music as a whole could do with some more light and shade to enhance dramatic peaks and troughs.
While the work is billed as a dark comedy, the humour that is present more often provokes a wry smile or half-hearted chuckle than a real laugh-out-loud moment, and, if Gulf goes into further development, it seems more appropriate to revise this into a more intense thriller than a comedic piece.
As a début production, there is promise here as the company taps into some issues that are at the forefront of today’s collective consciousness. However, they need to think more carefully about the ways their ideas are presented to ensure that their talents and keen observations are not thrown away in superfluous distractions from their core explorations.
Gulf is playing at the Camden People’s Theatre until 26 July. For tickets and more information, visit the Camden People’s Theatre website.