The Sea Plays
Until Sat Feb 18 2012
© Mark Douet
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Mon Jan 30 2012
Credit to the Old Vic Tunnels: they've dived to the bottom of the canon to recover Eugene O'Neill's three one-act plays about the gruelling reality of being a seaman.
The first, 'Bound East for Cardiff', is a about an injured American on a merchant ship heading for Wales. The second, 'In the Zone', is about a man suspected of being a German spy on a munitions ship. And the third, 'The Long Voyage Home', is about a naive Swedish sailor getting fleeced in a disreputable East End pub.
This maritime setting was meat and drink to O'Neill, who staged the works in Provincetown, Cape Cod, in 1916. Young and unknown as he then was, his plays roll with the swell of his characters' vernacular, ranging from Welsh to Swedish and native New York to beloved Irish. The result is as bracing as a blast of sea air and each tale is rooted in a murky melancholia that steams towards his masterpiece, 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'.
Kenneth Hoyt's impressively brawny production revels in the tales' sweaty vitality. Van Santvoord's design ensures the bowels of Waterloo station replicate a noisy steam liner with tableaux of bare-chested men shovelling coal. This is supplemented by dank lighting from Emma Chapman and creaking sound effects from Alex Baranowski.
Indeed the vigour of the show almost threatens to out-wrestle the writing – almost, but not quite. Matthew Trevannion comes out on top as one of O'Neill's original bibulous, bragging Irishmen and Raymond M Sage shows the writer's soft side as the older Swede yearning for idyllic retirement on a farm back home. Peopled with snarling, paranoid and loquacious chancers, this is an enormously rich and deliciously salty repast.