Review: Sea Wall

Things for Alex are good. He loves his wife, his daughter, his city, his job. But sometimes the force of life can crash against you. Sometimes everything you thought you could always depend on can be taken away.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with this particular play. It’s a beautiful, painful 45-minute monologue which is told in a fragmentary, off-the-cuff style, its tone conversational and deliberately alluring. The intended effect is very clearly to draw the audience in, and ultimately to pull them apart emotionally.
And I urge you now to come prepared, because it absolutely delivers.

We all knew what we were getting ourselves into when we bought tickets; it was clear from the off that something awful and grotesque was being held behind the initial facade of relaxation on the part of lead (and sole) actor Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker. Kishore is exceptional as Alex here. He is given the difficult task of trying to lure in a suspicious audience, but he more than achieves it with his natural charm and pitch perfect performance. The most striking aspect is how naturally it comes off, how, as an audience, we were all so engaged that we didn’t even notice the shift, when the tone grew darker. If there’s one particular mode Kishore can absolutely perfect, it’s joking evasiveness. Each humorous or cheerful moment comes with this underlying sense of its transience, and the foreboding terror of some uncertain, murky, future event. An event which, when it finally appears, perfectly mirrors the nature of the actor’s performance; slowly crumbling away into a messy oblivion.

Another person who deserves a great deal of credit is director Helena Snider, as does Luke Blackstock, her assistant director, for the amazing amount of work that must have gone into finely tuning this performance into the spectacular, sensitive portrayal it became. In casting such a charismatic actor, and directing him so expertly, an effect of great empathy was created, and, despite knowing something bad will happen, the audience was left hanging on his words and assuming the same role and mindset as Alex himself, one of blissful ignorance of his future. The effort showed in every moment and gesture, such as when Alex went over and opened the window in remembrance of his mistake.

There was definitely an excellent use of a performance space which, though unorthodox, ended up perfectly lending itself to this particular play. Rather than being on a raised stage, the performance took place in a small, intimate room, as if it were a small talk or presentation, and it perfectly fostered a sense of connection between actor and audience. The effectiveness of this space was further capitalised on by Kishore’s tendency to target certain members of the audience for some of the more informal moments, but this also feels somehow inauthentic, in such a way as to perfectly picture someone who had become so encapsulated by grief that real connection was rendered impossible.

I’ll sum it up in the play’s own style: with an anecdote. I sat in my seat, thinking about what I was going to say about the production, how to express my feelings on it, and I noticed he kept mentioning the sea. Something about loneliness, some sense of fear of the tide pulling you in and overwhelming you. This same motif just kept repeating over and over again, and then, when the play reached its end, and Alex walked out and turned the lights off, and, sitting there in the darkness, I remember thinking, ‘This is what drowning feels like.’

And I’d pay to see it again, any time.

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