Salt-Water Moon, Finborough Theatre, 2023
Photo: Lucy Hayes
  • Theatre, Drama

‘Salt-Water Moon’ review

Icky gender politics and a manic pace leave this 1985 Canadian romance looking out of date as it finally has its UK premiere

Andrzej Lukowski

Time Out says

The Finborough is the heart and soul of London’s fringe theatre scene: not only one of the last bona fide theatres-in-a-room-above-a-pub still standing, but possessed of a uniquely fearless artistic policy that sees it stage only UK premieres and plays that haven’t been done in over 25 years (and even within that there are rules – eg romcoms are out). It’s nurtured the careers of such theatrical luminaries as Mark Ravenhill, Blanche McIntyre and James Graham. It’s a venue I used to go to a lot but don’t get out to nearly as much as I like anymore. We should all go to the Finborough more often! 

…maaaaaybe not to ‘Salt-Water Moon’, though. 

The late David French’s 1985 play is a staple in his native Canada and other parts of North America. But you have to think that if it was going to connect with a mass UK audience it would have happened already.

Set in a coastal village in the remote eastern province of Newfoundland in 1926 (when it wasn’t yet part of Canada), the play follows a moonlit reunion between erstwhile couple Jacob and Mary. She is engaged to a wealthy man; he has been off breaking hearts in Ontario; now he wants to win her back. That she is currently 17 (he’s 20) doesn’t have to give you the ick in and of itself. But at the very least I never really felt particularly enthused about the idea of Joseph Potter’s motormouthed Jacob and Bryony Miller‘s pained Mary as some sort of destined-to-be couple, and the fact their romantic history dates back to when she was a child doesn’t exactly help.

Peter Kavanagh’s production is fast-paced and bumpy, defined by the manic quality of Potter’s performance. If it had a bit more room to breathe it might have an agreeably delicate melancholy, two former lovers – although again, she’s 17 – working through their hurt haltingly. Instead it frequently feels a bit like Chekhov on speed. And I don’t think Chekhov on speed is a good idea. Conversation that might have ebbed and flowed delicately instead storms forward sweatily. At one point Jacob is weepily accusing Mary of messing him about, when pretty much all she’s been doing is air reasonably legitimate old grievances while he aggressively cracks on to her.

French’s language is poetic and picaresque, and I think there’s probably a romance to this remote point in Canada’s history and geography that’s liable to be lost on a UK audience. ‘Salt-Water Moon’ is also part of a series of plays that feature the couple when they’re older, which presumably better contextualises their relationship. And there are nice things about the production. Mim Houghton’s bulb-based set is simple but beautifully effective. To these confused ears, Potter and Miller nail the rather esoteric Newfie accent. And while the abrasive vigour of their performances doesn’t exactly render Jacob and Mary loveable, it is at least energetic and pacy.

I wasn’t a fan, but it’s great that there is a theatre in London that will give UK premieres to culturally significant 38-year-old Canadian hits. And the Finborough has a typically eclectic season following, with big-ish name director Alice Hamilton’s UK premiere production of migration drama ‘One Who Wants to Cross’ next, followed by modern-day Norwegian classic ‘The Journey to Venice’. Not everything the Finborough stages hits the mark, but it’s a true London icon not in spite of that – but because of that.


£20-£23, £18-£20 concs. Runs 1hr 15min
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