There’s plenty of existential driftwood to be found in Tara Maria Lovett’s “The Tide,” washed up alongside dead bodies, broken dreams, a wannabe widow and a hopeful orphan. Two lost souls for whom freedom isn't free in a Godless universe steeped in mythological musings and moral consequences. If Lovett’s dark comedy proves to be larger than the sum of its problematic parts, humour often proves to be its saving grace. For if there’s a lot awry with Lovett’s “The Tide,” there's also a considerable amount of charm to be had, making it something of a curiously enjoyable experience.
Some sharp AV by John Gunning, supported in places by hints of an ambient soundtrack, nicely establishes the forlorn Ivy languishing on a beach. A beach as cold as her loveless, sexless marriage of the past thirty-five years. There she meets the childlike JC, himself a victim of another’s cruelty, who eventually makes an unexpected proposal. Feeling like Strangers On A Train meets Crime and Punishment, Lovett’s troubled tale of the older Ivy and the younger JC, suggests a 1970s, Holy Catholic Ireland being played out in a relatively recent setting. With timeline references spread all over the place, its a world that soon feels like a confusing mess. Even allowing for Lovett’s non-realist, almost absurdist leanings, a 19-year-old JC singing The Famous Five theme tune from the 1970s during the era of Britain's Got Talent makes for something of an uneasy ask.
Yet it’s not entirely surprising either. For what coheres “The Tide” together is not Lovett’s characters and their murderous scheming, nor the existentially anxious world they both inhabit. It’s the playwright herself, who is never very far away. Indeed, Lovett’s literary language and nostalgic nods often serve to smuggle her onstage. And while Lovett can often be both funny and engaging, it's almost always her voice that we’re only really hearing. If this impacts on duologues at times, it’s often better concealed there amidst the delightfully high handed comedy. But during many of the monologues, Lovett’s literary leanings drag everything into her undertow making “The Tide” feel like the theatrical equivalent of a novel reading in places.
All of which puts immense pressure on its hardworking cast. Who often seem engaged in trying to get the playwright off their stage so they can do their thing. In an effort to sift through Lovett’s literary silt, director Pat Nolan makes strong theatrical choices, dislodging some worthwhile nuggets in the process. Most obviously in using the comedic ploy of straight man and gag man, or straight woman and gag man in this instance, which Lovett’s script is well suited towards. The result kicks loose some hilarious moments, even if it often undermines its own potential for drama in doing so. As do some clumsy and weak transitions. Accents fading don’t help matters either, but hopefully they’ll tighten, along with some natural opening night nerves, as the run progresses.
An energised Killian Filan as the exuberant JC, looking like a dimmer witted Young Offender on an unsupervised day release, jumps right in to Lovett’s humour, delivering some fine comic turns. But he risks plateauing for being always over the top, his TV loving Garda looking like a third D’Unbelievable cameoing in an episode of Halls Pictorial Weekly. If Filan plays straight-up funny incredibly well, it often makes the darker, dramatic aspects of JC’s character that much harder to buy into. And leaves a committed Ann Russell with the thankless task of playing serious straight woman while carrying the bulk of the dramatic baggage. Looking at times like a grounding and distracted Bud Abbott to Filan’s loveable if childish Lou Costello, Russell works valiantly to bring some pathos and depth, delivering some dry, deadpan humour to offset Filan’s comic fierceness.
Those unlikely to buy into “The Tide's" unconvincing ending will find themselves compensated by some nicely played, comic touches. For even if its ideas come close to strangling it, there’s something beneath the surface of “The Tide” that’s subtly compelling. Lovett’s deliciously wry, wicked humour, might come at you in uneven waves and with uneven strength, but it has a disarming charm. Indeed, had Lovett trusted her wickedness more and got out of her own literary way, “The Tide” could have washed up something of an unexpected treasure. As it stands it delivers waves of genuine pleasure, inconsistently and unevenly, and some fine comic moments.
“The Tide” by Tara Maria Lovett, presented by Whirligig Theatre Company and The New Theatre, runs at The New Theatre until March 2 before going on tour.
For more information, visit The New Theatre or Whirligig Theatre