Tuesday, September 22, 2015

'Reckless' at the Rose Playhouse, 20th September 2015

I've got no time for haters when it comes to the Rose Playhouse. An original Elizabethan-era theatre, it was considered lost to time before being rediscovered during building work in 1989. Now the remains lie in stygian gloom beneath a steel and glass multi-story monstrosity. It's an incredibly evocative place: frozen solid in winter and chilly even in the height of summer, the vast room dominated by a pool of still water that protects the archaeological remains. It's hardly surprising that it's described as "one of the weirdest sights in London". 

All the best productions I've seen here exploit this unique performance space, and Rebecca Rogers' Reckless joins them. This is the tale of a nameless weatherbeaten island and the frayed lives of its inhabitants, particularly a relationship between father and son. Long ago their wife and mother drowned, leaving the father riddled with paranoia at the thought losing his beloved son. Consequentially he keeps a close eye on him, scolding him whenever he strays close to the crashing foam. Yet the arrival of a bright-eyed, pretty young girl entrances the son, and the two lovebirds make plans to leave the island.

This is a one hour, one-act narrative crewed with familiar archetypes, making Reckless less about character complexity and more about atmosphere and symbolism. For the latter, the show does an impress job of creating a dangerous coastline under the busy London streets. Seagulls caw and swooping down to snatch at the characters' lunches; the beam of a lighthouse swooshes across the stage; and effective sound design builds scenery in the mind's eye - you can almost smell the tang of salt in the air.

Helping matters is that while Reckless' community is quickly sketched what we see comes tinged with authenticity. Mid-way through the play we observe a village ceremony where the inhabitants each bring a picture of a loved one who's died at sea. They explain that for this one night they dredge the drowned from the deep and ensure that their memory will live in. Moments like these give this community gravitas - no small achievement considering the brevity of the play and the small cast.

As far symbolism goes, Carl Jung once said "The sea is my favourite symbol for the unconscious, the mother of all that lives." Roger's writing feeds into this, using showing individuals in awe of a vast uncharted emptiness, their actions entirely informed by the effect of the ocean upon them. Ideas like these are incredibly potent in the soft, malleable, clay textures of the Rose, where the soft lighting makes Elizabethan ghosts flit from the corner of your eyes. Within the narrative we draw parallels between scenery and character - the forlorn wreck of a warship beached on the coast mirrors the once-proud father's depression and gloom, and the artificial gaze of the lighthouse dovetails with the presentation of the lighthouse keeper as an interloper.

It's in this dreamy, free-associative haze that Reckless works best - a kind of woozy meditation on passion, paranoia and loss guided by the fourth-wall busting writer/director/actor Rebecca Rogers as the harbourmaster. The broad dramatic strokes feel like they're aligning with the Rose's typical fare - resurrections of obscure Elizabethan plays and manipulations of ancient Greek drama.

But though she succeeds in controlling tone and atmosphere, Reckless isn't without its flaws. Billed as 90 minutes long, I was a little confused when it ended after just an hour - and just when it was getting interesting! There's lots dramatic territory left unexplored - we never get to see the emotional timebombs that stud the drama go off. Similarly, there's the somewhat vestigial character of the lighthouse keeper, who appears to be the quasi-villain of the tale but feels crowbarred in.

It's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Reckless. Granted, it does a great job of establishing tone and place - Rogers is clearly a writer/performer with talent to spare. Similarly the cast are uniformly good, though no-one exactly stands out as mindblowingly amazing. But, walking out, I felt like I'd only seen Act 1. This is a promising skeleton, but desperately in need of musculature.


Reckless is at the Rose Playhouse until 27 September 2015. Tickets here.

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