A pair of anthropomorphic lizards coming out of the sea and having a conversation with a married couple dealing with a mid-life crisis is by far the least likely premise you’ll hear this year. If I were to tell you the play is an existential piece comparing man against beast, the origin of species and the inevitable decline of the human race, I imagine a fair number of eyebrows would be raised.
Edward Albee’s Seascape is all that and more. The set-up appears absurd, verging on too ludicrous to take seriously – when the lizards do finally appear on stage, you can’t help but laugh hysterically at the situation; yet, whilst the play is inflected with comedy throughout, a serious and rather disturbing subtext lies just under the surface, audiences having to confront both beautiful and bestial aspects of their lives.
The production, directed by Ned Caderni and performed at the Garage Theatre in Norwich, emphasises the melancholy in a profound way. Footage is shown early on depicting life itself, both human and animal intertwined; though what we see is alive and well, a resounding sense of sorrow is projected on the screen. Thus an atmosphere is created that never quite escapes the production, of sorrow and reflection, of our everyday living as being both filled with beauty and filled with our misgivings.
Humanity in the play enters in the forms of middle-aged husband and wife Charlie and Nancy, and certainly the characters provide this humanity in abundance. Albee dedicates the entire first act of the play to exploring their marriage and their individual personal lives. In Charlie, played by Sam Briggs, we are given a man yearning to dive in the sea, stay amongst the bottom sands and escape the surface reality. Caoimhe Blair’s Nancy longs to be young again, to feel passion again, to lead a life of no restrictions that marriage (or indeed adulthood) can never provide. Blair’s performance provides an absorbing energy and passion that never runs out, contrasting with the often moving and thoughtful presence of Briggs.
Whilst the actors gave one act of introverted and fascinating naturalism, the appearance of the lizards named Sarah and Leslie (mother and father to a whopping 2000 children) injects a physical confrontation to the production, ranging from basic slapstick to the more subtle basic movements of lizards contrasting with humans. The decision to explore movement makes the performances stand out, and the movement direction of Calhan Mundy and Jordan Wilkes allows Seascape’s theme of man against beast to be explored throughout the second act. Amy Bonar and Alex McNally play Sarah and Leslie in a manner that allows the illusion to be created, yet also quenching the audience’s thirst for humour.
Notwithstanding a few forced musical cues and an excessive use of make-up – which may have jolted my experience initially – I found the production to be rife with dedicated performances and atmospheric design that unlocked the beauty and the melancholy of Albee’s play, talking lizards and all.