THE DROUGHT at the King’s Head Theatre
“There’s enough that’s excellent to know that she could make this genuinely spine-chilling”
Writer Nina Atesh has come upon a beautiful, terrifying idea: What if the sea simply disappeared one day, drying out like a small puddle, stranding all its aquatic societies, fish and sailor alike. It captures the imagination with both the arid aesthetic of the dried-out sea, and the practical horror of being completely stranded in the middle of nowhere with no fresh water to be found. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come to fruition.
There’s definitely a growing sense of dread throughout, but it seems misdirected: The two last crew members on board this particular ship- the captain (Andrew Callaghan) and his loyal steward, Garson (Jack Flammiger) – busy themselves with pointless naval tasks, playing out some sense of normality, until they’re interrupted by a mysterious stranger (Caleb O’Brien), claiming to be a stranded whaler, in need only of food and water. But his motives become suspect as he tries to manipulate and turn the captain and steward against one another. The reason isn’t entirely clear- he seems to desperately want the captain’s much prized jar of sea water- but the menace he poses doesn’t seem to add up to the apparent goal.
Julia Sullivan’s set is appropriately sparse, a platform serving as Captain’s desk, topped with only a ledger, a lamp, and the precious sea water. Sullivan’s costumes have a little more flare, mirroring the bizarre contrast between the bleak, lonely circumstances, and the captain’s refusal to give up his naval rituals: Garson is smartly attired in a striped blue collarless shirt, always tucked in, and similarly the captain is never without his naval jacket, scattered with what looks like glittering, gold seaweed, a sign of his eternal pledge to life at sea.
The performances are strong on the whole, though the script seems to let O’Brien down a bit; the uncertainty of his character’s purpose seeps into his performance. Callaghan is jarringly spectacular, a massive fish in a small pond (pun intended). His eyes bulge with exhaustion, and his false jocularity is maybe the scariest part of the show.
If Atesh were to rewrite this and come back to the stage with the exact same cast and crew, I would absolutely come to see it. There’s enough that’s excellent to know that she could make this genuinely spine-chilling if she were willing to kill her darlings and rework the plot.
Reviewed on 20th September 2022
by Miriam Sallon
Photography courtesy Pither Productions
Previously reviewed at this venue: