Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 16th August 2019
“No doubt, this is still a very relevant and prevalent story. But the manner in which it has been tackled seems a bit reductive …“
This is the age-old story of ‘us versus them’. Directed by Samara Gannon, The Net is set on an unnamed contested piece of land divided by a wall, a pair of women on each side laying their claim. The land is barren, but still the fight goes on. One side says they “feel” that this is their land, that it’s time they took what was rightfully theirs; the other argues that their villages were razed to the ground, that this was, until recently, their home.
No doubt, this is still a very relevant and prevalent story. But the manner in which it has been tackled seems a bit reductive, having two sides of the argument come so plainly to the table, and ending up almost exactly where you would expect, with everyone having some kind of revelation about their enemies, notwithstanding a little bloodshed along the way. Granted, The Net takes a slight curve in the normal plot trajectory, but it’s not shocking enough that we don’t see what’s round the bend.
The staging (Sally Sommerville-Woodiwis) is quite beautiful: a patchwork of mismatching fishing nets, intertwined with trinkets and what look like either crystal balls or Christmas baubles, make up the dividing wall. This serves both to explain how one might conceivably break through, and to allow the audience to see both sides. The fact of it being made by something so easily broken isn’t really addressed, but it’s much of a muchness – the wall is there, people are afraid to break through, other people are afraid that they might.
There are abundant sound effects (Ruth Sullivan), denoting the closing in of the unseen army, or splices between the present moment and individual monologues, but very often it’s unclear what these sounds are supposed to be. Coursing electricity is used, for example, to bring us back to the conflict at hand, with no correlation to the plot. The sound of body-slaps (I think?) and whispers is used as an undercurrent for a couple of monologues, but again, I don’t understand their relevance.
The production extols its inclusion of all ages in the telling of this story, “from 16 to 70”. Sue Moore, playing da Silva’s grandmother, is a wonderful addition in theory. Unfortunately, her range is limited from mild annoyance all the way to mild frustration. She does push herself in one emotionally vexing monologue recounting her daughter’s death, but the moment is short-lived.
Sarah Agha, at the other end of the age range (I’m presuming she’s sixteen), expresses her character’s ongoing trauma and naivety faithfully. Yvonne Wan and Marta de Silva are similarly engaging. Though all three performances are a little overwrought at times, I can’t see how it could be avoided in this narrative. Whilst this experience would no doubt be extremely stressful, keeping the emotional anxiety at eleven all the way through the play is quite exhausting.
This is certainly a story that needs telling, but it feels a little like something that should tour disputed borders, or secondary schools, rather than performing to an already (mostly) left-leaning London crowd. This kind of story should provoke a response, but instead the audience leaves feeling much the same about such conflicts as they did when they entered.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Ewa Ferdynus
Tristan Bates Theatre until 17th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: