THE BEACH HOUSE at the Park Theatre
“It is engaging but teasing. Like an extended trailer. Or rather a pilot for a television drama series”
“I’m not always that easy to love” Kate explains to her girlfriend Liv. She then spends the next ninety minutes proving her point. If it stretches our patience, think what it is like for the three characters in “The Beach House”, whose entangled lives untangle before us over the course of a year or so. A year in which Kate gives birth to their baby daughter (the conception of which remains a mystery) after the couple move into a crumbling cottage by the sea. Kate’s sister, Jenny, comes and goes, upsetting the already precarious balance each time she arrives, and often more so when she leaves.
Many staple themes are touched upon in Jo Harper’s episodic play, that are unveiled in a series of snapshots. Short scenes. Vignettes of a particular moment in time. Like looking through a stranger’s photo album. We see the surface, and then rely on our imaginations to create the back story. Dramatically that is a blessing, but a burden for the performers who have little time to convince us of their complex characterisation. And they don’t always manage this in the time they have. But what they do have, in abundance, is the ability to draw you into the moment and offer more than a hint of what is going on. The cracks appear in the relationships like the leaks that spring in the roof of their rundown home.
Kathryn Bond is the pragmatic, uptight career woman. Bond cleverly plays the bully with a tender lack of self-awareness who can surprisingly elicit sympathy. The issue of post-natal depression is brushed aside and swept under her façade of impatience and overreaction. Apparently Kate has always been the controlling type, according to free spirited, little sister Jenny. Gemma Barnett has many layers through which to make her character’s voice heard but, despite her strong charisma and very watchable presence, the message becomes muffled. Gemma Lawrence’s Liv has the most light and shade. A blocked songwriter, she depends on Kate financially and emotionally. Lawrence convincingly portrays a divided soul. We marvel at her tolerance, and understand and excuse her indiscretions.
There is a lot going on here. All three characters are both culprits and victims. They are grappling with some hefty issues. Coercion, emotional abuse, infidelity, motherhood, sisterhood, abortion, betrayal, desire. It could be a whirlwind, but it is more fragile than that. Delivered gently, the real tensions are like a dark cloud on the horizon, and the performances are treading some way from the precipice.
Set in the round, Bethany Pitts staging is nevertheless starkly honest, reflected in Cara Evans’ sparse setting. The lens focuses on a single trunk centre stage, a Pandora’s Box – on which the lid is never fully lifted. A baby monitor relays some offstage dialogue, but again we expect more of a reveal from this technique. It is engaging but teasing. Like an extended trailer. Or rather a pilot for a television drama series. Now there’s an idea. The performances certainly do leave us wanting to know more. And what happens next. And what happened before. “Always leave them wanting more” they say. A fundamental rule that this company haven’t breached in “The Beach House”.
Reviewed on 20th February 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by David Monteith-Hodge
Previously reviewed at this venue: