Black Sheep Theatre, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
The debut production from new theatre company, Black Sheep Theatre, Fear of Drowning is being publicised as “a vicious romantic comedy about commitment, tribalism and the end of the world”. Whilst all these elements are present, they are not pulled together to form a coherent, meaningful piece of theatre. There is a sense that the show is attempting to convey a message, but it is so swamped in the plethora of social issues being fired out at every turn and twist of the play, that any attempted commentary on society or lesson to be learnt, is lost in the melee. Within the relatively brief 90 minute duration of the show, we are hit with a conveyor belt of hot topics; global warming, racism, homophobia, the rise of social media, pop culture, polyamory, drugs, religion, the class divide, torture, exploitation of the workforce, the sex/porn industry; any one of which could form the basis of an entire production of its own. The inclusion of so many potential springboards for theatrical licence, without any of them truly being utilised to provoke a post-show dialogue or direction of thought within the audience, only serve as a distraction to the main storyline, detracting from the central themes of the piece.
Having been jilted at the altar by his confused wife-to-be (or perhaps not to be!), Elli, Steve and best man Deano, corner Eli’s brother, Tim in his hotel room. Chaos ensues in a hyperbolic farce, climaxing in Tim being water-boarded on a trouser press in the bath by Deano and Steve, before making his escape on all fours, yelling “Expecto Patronum!” as he brandishes a toothbrush. Whilst the show may be slightly lacking in substance, it is rich in humour. Deano (Lee Mengo) is by far the star of the show, with his outstanding comic timing and hilarious delivery of PRW Jenkins’ lines. His entrance brings an energy that is missing in the opening scene, creating a dynamic on stage which lifts the whole atmosphere of the piece.
Keiron Self’s flustered, easily manipulated character Tim, is slightly overacted initially, but rapidly gains strength as the show progresses and his timid demeanour is replaced by bursts of outrage. A recurring Harry Potter theme garners easy laughs from the audience, but seems an odd choice for a present-day play, forming one of a few aspects which give the show an outdated edge, making it seem out of touch with the fast-moving pace of today’s culture.
The themes that do manage to pull through with some success are the divide between the middle and working class and the impending environmental apocalypse. A Ketamine-induced, Noah’s Ark inspired hallucination of Deano’s, is a particularly vivid exploration of the impact our ever-increasing carbon footprint is having on the earth. And Deano and Tim’s App battle/Harry Potter duel hybrid draws on some very recognisable traits, particularly of a pretentious middle class, as Deano pretends to obliterate pomegranate juice and skinny soy lattes.
Fear of Drowning undoubtedly has a strong sense of fun, with its unbridled enthusiasm for pure madness. The additional, playful touches such as the wedding balloons at the entrance to the theatre, and the wedding invitation-style programme show a deeper level of thought for consistency than is perhaps apparent in the play itself. It may be messy and completely bonkers, but it is undeniably entertaining and sometimes, in this world of hidden agendas and self-seeking motives, this in itself, is enough.
Fear of Drowning runs at Chapter until April 23rd
(photo credit: Kirsten McTernan)