Alex Hollingsworth, Chris Walters, Christey Nethercott, Edinburgh Fringe, Fine Frenzy Theatre, Gus Miller, Jacob Hayes, Nottingham New Theatre, Peter Cary, Sam Warren, Spaces on North Bridge, Theatre Review
“Oh my God, they killed John!”
Peter Cary’s “Vessel,” which is presently playing at the Spaces on North Bridge, observes the guilt and dismay of those whom John has left behind. Fine Frenzy Theatre would doubtlessly prefer their play to be compared to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, but it reminds me more of South Park because John, like Kenny, is mostly a waterproof coat. He has not been impaled sliding down a flagpole, but lost at sea. His five siblings will move the coat’s hood and arms to make it look like he is swimming.
They have gathered to honour John’s memory by building a boat and apparently re-enacting scenes from his life. These greatest hits include the time when he delivered a prankish lecture about James Joyce to his school assembly, and an altercation with his sister’s intolerable boyfriend (Alex Hollingsworth). Perhaps this is the norm in Ireland, where “Vessel” is set, and at wakes the mourners dress up and restage the times when the deceased had said something particularly memorable. “Vessel” is already a beautiful play, but the English cast render it more melodic by performing with Irish accents. There is nary a bum note but I am still disposed to be cynical. Are the Irish more authentically bittersweet?
“Vessel” offers some exceptionally imaginative and skilful physical theatre, of a standard nearer to the crow’s nest than to the deck. Some scenes are exquisitely delineated, such as when the characters are portrayed as children at Christmas or when John (Jacob Hayes) is finally wading into the waves. Yet these moments come to shine hauntingly through the sea fog. This is a foggy play – the plot and characters are often amusingly odd rather than necessarily credible. We have found ourselves on a family outing with this shambolic lot, and it is rather a nuisance to keep up with whatever they are all bickering about. They seem to be appeased in the end, however, and the play concludes with some powerful, triumphant imagery.
It is not remotely a surprise to learn that Fine Frenzy is a splinter group of Tychy’s favourite student theatre company, Nottingham New Theatre. It has been set up by postgraduate old hands from NNT, and “Vessel” demonstrates the same characteristics and quality as a NNT production. If NNT customarily send two shows to the Fringe, this year we have been in many respects treated to a third.
[The writer Peter Cary previously appeared in NNT’s “The Retreat” (2010), which Tychy reviewed here.]