WRECKAGE at The Turbine Theatre
“Rikki Beadle-Blair directs with a flair that matches the heightened narrative”
In Anthony Minghella’s film ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’, Alan Rickman’s character returns from the dead specifically to help Juliet Stevenson get over him by tarnishing her idealised memory of him. As a ghost, he irritates her and behaves in ways that infuriate her. In Tom Ratcliffe’s “Wreckage”, now playing at the Turbine Theatre, a similar concept is deployed, but without the poignancy of Rickman’s intention. The two characters, dead or alive, seem to spend a lot of time irritating each other, dredging up past (and future) frustrations and misdemeanours. Although in between there are abundant declarations of love and we eventually understand that the shouty tantrums are, in effect, signifiers of grief.
Ratcliffe’s script is finely crafted and chronologically complex, moving between the past, present and future. Sam (Tom Ratcliffe) and Noel (Michael Walters) are in the perfect relationship. Noel, being older, more laid back and assured, is often the one to smooth out Sam’s rattled and jumpy mind. This is established at the outset during which Noel agrees to rush out on an errand to placate Sam, grabbing the car keys, promising to be back in twenty minutes. The scene, and its tragic consequence, is played out multiple times, reflecting the torturous “if only…” reaction that loops in Sam’s mind – possibly forever.
Separated by death, the couple become paradoxically inseparable and what ensues is an exploration of guilt and grief. Ratcliffe effectively portrays the torment of how to cope with loss as he battles with what to cling on to and what (or rather when) to move on. The ‘reality’ of Noel’s ghost in his mind is powerful enough for Noel to take over and control the narrative. The passion brought out in the performances is undeniable, but any true sense of heartbreak is undermined by a complete lack of subtlety. We long for more poignancy and silence amidst the shouting and screaming and writhing.
Despite a reluctance to tone down the performances, Rikki Beadle-Blair directs with a flair that matches the heightened narrative, and with the clever use of video projections and Rachel Sampley’s lighting we are guided clearly through the shifts in time. We witness the couple meeting for the first time, and we are privy to posthumous revelations of infidelity. The influence of in-laws and wranglings of property and possessions are explored in an ingenious fashion by the writing, casting fresh perspective on what would normally be a run of the mill relationship. We are asked to think, and to challenge our preconceptions about how we might cope. But ultimately, as compelling as it is on paper, the emotional connection is left wanting.
The idea is not new, but the execution is innovative. The tag line is “I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you”. Sam is young when he loses the love of his life and he goes on to live a long, fulfilling life. The message is that ‘love never dies’, and they will eventually be reunited. In a hurried finale, we are treated to a slideshow of Sam’s three-score-years-and-ten that lead up to their reunion. It is a lifetime, during which Sam does move on. But is he living a lie all along?
“Wreckage” draws you in, and whirls you around in its turmoil with two (for the most part) terrific performances. But it is strangely unmoving. Petulance too often pushes grief out of the way, while the mixed message gets in the way. The character you most feel for is the underwritten Christian – Sam’s new, lifelong, partner (very briefly played by Walters). He puts up with Sam for life, while all along Sam is yearning for the day that he can join Noel again – for eternity. Really? Come on – you spent most of your time arguing!
Reviewed on 11th January 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography courtesy Harlow Playhouse
Previously reviewed at this venue: