Dublin Fringe Review: At Sea

Speak friend, and enter.

Honi of the House Cooke, at your service.

And what are you reviewing today?

At Sea, by Just The Lads.

Where and when can I see it?

The New Theatre, 8:15pm, 8th – 13th September.

Am I bothered, though?

If you have any semblance of a straight set of priorities, yes.

What’s it about?

‘Forgetting,’ in a nutshell: through the eyes of Roger, an old fisherman grasping at memories from his lifetime as they slip away, leaving him with fragmented, distorted moments for us to piece together.

What did you think?

Based on Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Just The Lads’ second production to date is a poignant triumph. Devised by the company under the direction of Darren Sinnott and Liadain Kaminska, the show delicately handles the frustration of dementia and memory loss, but also the retention of dignity and vitality within the mind.

Peter Corboy’s portrayal of Roger is riveting from the first. His work on physicality was astounding: swinging instantaneously from such extreme frailties of old age, to a child playing on the beach, to a foetus. This was particularly entrancing in the first section when he wore the large mask, leaving him only his voice and body to act with. His vacant expression when asked questions such as “What is your name?” and “Where are you?” was nothing short of heartbreaking. He also displayed a very impressive vocal range, with an array of voices both pre-recorded and live. Smaller roles were fluidly handled by Cameron McCauley and Anna Clifford, who filled in the various blank faces of Roger’s mind and provided excellent support to the central performance. They also supplied the music, designed by McCauley, on electric guitar and cello respectively to great atmospheric advantage. The music chosen evoked the ever-shifting landscapes of memory, and captured perfectly an era gone by – specifically the sixties in which Roger grew up.

The set, designed by Molly O’ Cathain and lit beautifully by Jonathan Shanahan, was a sublime echo of the mind of Roger; intricately cluttered with mementos, aged furniture, and nautical paraphernalia. The sails, made partially from lace curtain, had a place on both the sailboat and in a typical living room, cleverly allowing for multiple situations to be accommodated. They also often reflected the fins of the fish pursued by Roger: a synecdochal suggestion of the size of the mysterious monstrosity. Fully admitting to my nit-pickiness, I had a mild personal issue with space, lamenting the small size of the stage. I came to view the main performance space as representative of Roger’s capacity for remembering, and the objects in it as memories. Because of this, the presence and equipment of the other performers felt slightly foreign to me, and encroached on Roger’s area. Perhaps a more defined distinction between spaces might have stayed my hand in typing this, but the incongruity did no lasting damage to the performance or the overall quality of the set at all.

For a play with the subject matter of dementia and memory loss, I left feeling both emotional and elated. How? Not many plays can get away with such a heroically outrageous musical number at the end (not to give too much away), but At Sea used it to undercut a potentially heavy ending, and every second of the song was earned and owned by the whole production. We are left with the beautiful sentiment that although the consequences of aging can be painful, you are as young as you feel inside.

How many réalta? (We are back in Dublin after all)

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