(Dir: Ross Dinwiddy)
Rialto Theatre, Brighton 21st-25th May
Reviewed by Susan McFie
As part of the Brighton Fringe, Blue Devil Productions returns to a venue they know well with their exciting new play The Geminus. Written and directed by Ross Dinwiddy the play is a reimagining of Joseph Conrad’s classic seafaring tale, The Secret Sharer. The inspiration behind Conrad’s novella came from an incident that happened on the Cutty Sark in 1877. The story goes that as the clipper delivered its last cargo of tea, violence broke out amongst the crew and a seaman was murdered by the first mate.
Brighton’s tiny Rialto Theatre is perfectly suited to the production. The audience becomes a passenger aboard the becalmed cargo ship Geminus, drifting somewhere in the South China Seas, with Captain Hotson, played by John Black, having just taken command of his first ship. As a young and inexperienced Captain, Hotson is struggling to gain respect from his crew.
In an effort to ‘show them what he’s made of’ Hotson takes the night watch. It’s unbearably hot and the young Captain takes to the deck wearing only his impeccable grey silk pyjamas. He succeeds only in raising eyebrows amongst the crew. As he stares out to sea, dressed in his ‘bedroom suit’ and contemplating his dilemma, another ship is spotted in the distance. Then, as if in a dream sequence, he sees the fugitive Leggatt clinging to the side of the Geminus.
Having survived many hours in the water, Leggatt, played by Hastings-based actor Gareth Wildig, climbs aboard in a state of remarkable calm and good humour. He soon regales the Captain with gruesome tales of a murder he has recently committed. Despite the undisguised relish with which he tells his story, he clearly expects Hotson to take pity upon him.
The Captain is visibly beguiled and confused in equal measure, wondering what exactly he has allowed aboard and into his life. But before long we are treated to the unlikely spectacle of the Captain and the charismatic stranger, both clad in identical silk pyjamas, rummaging through the emergency food supplies of turtle soup, oysters and foie gras. Hotson’s attraction to the seductive Leggatt both repels and excites him. Hidden away in the Captain’s quarters with food and wine, the heat of the night leads to a sexual encounter that is unstoppable, despite the discomfort of the single bunk bed and the many interruptions from a deeply suspicious crew.
The arrival of Ma Gwen, the Captain of the vessel from which Leggatt has escaped, radically shifts the dynamic. She enters the stage like a matron walking in on midnight feasters. The fearsome Gwen played by Christine Kempell has taken command of her husband’s ship and is on a mission with ‘a killer to catch.’ Despite her suspicions she disembarks without the fugitive Leggatt.
It is the calm before the storm. We have time to wonder if Leggatt is really just the Captain’s fantasy created out of loneliness and sexual frustration or indeed are they one and the same person? As the weather changes, so the energy on stage builds, with a skilful fight scene, a mutinous power struggle and an almost electric climax. This is ultimately a rite of passage tale told with an underlying sense of something ominous lurking in the shadows.
The cast of five delivers an excellent performance. Gareth Wildig was clearly very confident in this role. His mercurial facial expressions take the audience on a rollercoaster of uncertainty about the true nature of his character.
This is a true homage to the essence of Joseph Conrad, whose works, (such as Heart of Darkness, which became the basis for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now), often used events at sea to mark the evolution of protagonists.
• The play will transfer to the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s West End from 12th-17th August.
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