SALT-WATER MOON at the Finborough Theatre
“A slow burner, but one that burns bright”
It is a slow, and sometimes difficult journey, to discover what “Salt-Water Moon’ is really about. But do not let that put you off. In this context, ‘slow’ is synonymous with ‘gently absorbing’ while ‘difficult’ can be paraphrased to mean ‘thoughtful’ or ‘intelligently imaginative’. The ambiguity is deliberate as the play may not be to everybody’s taste, but it kicks off 2023 with a blast of fresh air that wouldn’t be out of place on the ragged Newfoundland coast that is the setting for this engaging two-hander.
Set in the front porch of a coastal summer house in 1926, “Salt-Water Moon” is essentially a love story. Mary Snow (Bryony Miller) is star gazing through an eyeglass. Mim Houghton’s simple, festooned design evokes the starry, starry night, complemented by Neill Brinkworth’s lighting: a palette of blue and gray. It is not entirely clear whether Mary is expecting it, but a lilting voice – familiar to her – is heard in the distance, followed by the appearance of Jacob Mercer (Joseph Potter), Snow’s former sweetheart who abruptly left a year before to try his luck in Toronto. Mary initially resolves to remain true to her current fiancé, Jerome McKenzie, rightly betraying the hurt caused by Jacob’s desertion.
Potter plays Jacob with a permanent, cocksure grin that borders on arrogance: an arrogance that is belied by an assured, commanding and loveable performance. Potter’s natural charisma allows us to forgive the character’s sometimes dated sentiments and sentimentality. Equally, Miller rescues her character from the downtrodden path she could have taken, and we get a real sense that, whoever wins, she is quite capable of giving as good as she gets. There is a deep sense of rivalry between Mary’s unseen fiancé and Jacob, the exposition of which cleverly places the piece in the context of the first world war. Without lecturing us, the emotional and traumatic fallout that the Newfoundlanders suffered is poignantly understated, yet vividly described through David French’s dialogue.
The dialogue drives the play which, on paper, is a challenging script. Potter and Miller certainly rise to the challenge, tackling the dynamics (and the accents) with ease and skilfully playing with French’s words to strike the right levels of emotion. A talented duo, they possess the art of listening to each other and reacting. It is an intuitive and astute performance, full of realism. Peter Kavanagh directs with the same authenticity – subtle yet magical. There is a loving attention to detail that gives us the larger picture, just as the occasional silences reinforce the narrative.
Although the play ends with an unresolved outcome, we are left in little doubt as to the answer to the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ question. Nevertheless, we do leave the theatre wanting to know what happens next. This makes sense, as “Salt-Water Moon” is the third play in a quartet that features the two protagonists. Yet it has the fullness of a stand-alone piece of writing that explores the nature of love, betrayal, patriotism, loss, forgiveness and loyalty. It revisits a bygone age and harks back to a former and sometimes forgotten spirit of theatre; quietly asserting its relevance. A slow burner, but one that burns bright.
Reviewed on 5th January 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Lucy Hayes
Previously reviewed at this venue: