“it’s certainly entertaining but not, for the most part, in the manner in which it was intended”
Based on Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’, The Geminus tells the tale of Captain Hotson and his unexpected romance with nautical fugitive Leggatt. Hotson (John Black) is a novice captain, grappling with his newfound authority and responsibility. Taking the night’s watch alone, he finds Leggatt (Gareth Wildig) clinging for dear life on the side of his ship. After Leggatt’s explanation of how he came to be involved in the death of a man on his own ship, Hotson decides he seems like an alright fellow, fetches him some matching silk pyjamas and stows him away in his quarters.
Neither gentleman feels the need to button up their silky jammies as they circle one another, discovering such fun facts as they’ve both been to the same public boys’ school. “What happened to your clothes?”, asks Captain Hotson. Leggatt moves ever closer to the captain, shirts billowing open…
The Geminus comes across as poorly written homo-erotica, without the actual deed. It’s neither one thing or another really – neither a close study of a covert, forbidden relationship, nor an outrageously sexy romp. Writer and director Ross Dinwiddy seems set on making this a serious story, but simultaneously takes literally any opportunity to create sexual tension. When explaining why he didn’t swim away on being spotted on the side of the ship, for example, Leggatt looks intensely at his new acquaintance, and purrs, “I didn’t mind being looked at… I liked it.”
The unnatural dialogue doesn’t give much opportunity for great performances, though the most enjoyable scene to watch is certainly the almost farcical encounter between Captain Hotson and Ma Gwen (Christine Kempell) playing captain of the Sephora, Leggatt’s former ship. Ma Gwen boards the ship looking for her former first mate who is, of course, hiding only a few steps away. There’s something a little pantomimish, which again doesn’t really work if we’re to take this story seriously and experience any real feeling of danger in Leggatt’s almost getting caught, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
The set is simple, with only a table and stools, a bed (of course) and a helm, but a blue light washes over the stage, and we hear crashing waves throughout the production, which serves to keep the audience at sea. There are a couple of moments when the performers struggle to be heard over the soundtrack but for the most part it’s effective.
Whether Dinwiddy decides to take a closer look at what it is that brings these two men together and what will inevitably keep them apart, or whether he leans in to the overly erotic and outrageous, there is something interesting at the core of this story. As it stands however, it’s certainly entertaining but not, for the most part, in the manner in which it was intended.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography courtesy Blue Devil Productions
Tristan Bates Theatre
until 17th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
“By wisely trusting in the source material, he has achieved a result which is both timely and, at times, compelling”
Though a century old, the fiction of Franz Kafka – its cruelty, its paranoia, and its pitch-black humour- reverberates through time. The concept of a ‘penal colony’ may seem outdated, a nightmare from a forgotten age, but Kafka’s short story of the same name remains a terrifyingly urgent vision of cold, bureaucratic madness, and ultimately its collapse. As such it seems fitting that today it should be brought to the stage, as it has in Ross Dinwiddy’s new adaptation.
In the original text – to which Dinwiddy’s plot remains relatively true – a traveller from an unnamed country arrives on an unnamed island, a penal colony. He is escorted to the place of an execution he has come to observe, and discovers there the brutal and arcane process by which it will be carried out. In twelve-hour cycles, a machine – the “apparatus” – carves the sentences of condemned persons into their skin, keeping them alive at least long enough to have an “epiphany” concerning their crimes. The only executor – and increasingly the only supporter – of the practice is an officer who, with almost religious zeal, explains to the traveller the baroque form of torture which he is about to witness. The only other characters are the condemned man and the soldier guarding him.
The small number of characters as well as the small space are both fitting for the dank, paranoid atmosphere of the play. The claustrophobic room housing the apparatus once doubled as an inner sanctum for its adherents; we the audience act as the ghosts of the many observers that once came but do so no longer. Matt Hastings’ traveller is perhaps more obviously appalled than Kafka’s original character, yet as a result he acts as the vessel for our horror. But the keystone of the piece is undoubtedly Emily Carding’s officer, whose wild mood swings between order and mania mirror the essential madness of bureaucracy underpinning everything.
Where the play becomes somewhat slack, however, is in its awkward transition from page to stage. Much of the officer’s dialogue is lifted directly from Kafka, but what works well in prose often becomes too knotty for drama. There are times when the officer’s explanations lose interest in spite of Carding’s charisma. Restoring the balance slightly is the parallel relationship between the soldier and the condemned man (Maximus Polling and Luis Amália respectively). What starts as detached, slowly develops (despite the condemned man’s circumstances) into playful and finally sexual, all carried out in silence as the oblivious officer explains the apparatus. It is in this sequence in particular that the piece best expresses Kafka’s dark sense of humour. And yet even this loses interest after some time, leaving sections in the middle of the play flat, in want of something happening.
Nonetheless, Dinwiddy manages to retain the cruelty and absurdity of the story. By wisely trusting in the source material, he has achieved a result which is both timely and, at times, compelling.