Fear Of Drowning started life in a windowless room at the National Theatre Studio. In truth, there are windows but they are tiny and very high up so all you can see are grey breeze block walls and a computer screen, which is ideal for getting a play written.
On the surface Fear Of Drowning is a violent farce about a wedding that goes wrong; lurking underneath hopefully is an exploration of the binary political arguments that are often seen as the height of intellectual engagement. During that stint in London I popped along to see Ten Billion at the Royal Court, a sooth-saying lecture performance given by an eminent scientist. It was a dark prediction of environmental apocalypse and the futility of any action to prevent it, ending with a nihilistic quote from one of his team who confided that the only thing he could advise future generations was ‘to go out and buy a gun’. My only thought leaving the theatre was ‘if anything is going to ensure the collapse of civilization – it’s that’.
And so the play was forged in an angry blur of apocalyptic predictions dressed-up as activism which fleshed out into a protagonist embodying the two great cultural markers of our time: climate change and Harry Potter. Tim, the anti-hero of Fear Of Drowning, could be seen as a modern Don Quixote, seizing on every set of scientific data predicting the end and wielding them as weapons in his quest to save civilization. Fear Of Drowning is not intended as a criticism of engagement with the concerns of our age – but it does question the way we arm ourselves with these and use them against those who do not share them. This shaming of the ignorant majority towards new behavioural paradigms seems to work … but at what cost?
Since coming home to Cardiff the play was one of two runners up in the inaugural Wales Drama Award and was eventually picked up by director Ryan Romain and producer Kate Perridge from the newly founded Black Sheep Theatre. The rehearsal room can be a peculiar place for a writer, sitting there with a headful of fully-formed characters which inevitably jar with the new manifestations being born through the actors. I’m very happy to say that with such a fantastic cast and director, for the first time I’ve felt almost no need to even be there. Ryan trained with Mike Alfreds and the focus on character and exercises to keep the performances playful and alive seems to be embodying potent performances from Keiron Self, Sarah Jayne Hopkins, Michael Humphreys and Lee Mengo.
Ultimately theatre is an actor’s medium, they are the ones entrusted with invoking the spirit and themes of the play and bringing them into being in front of a live audience. I have one prediction of my own, I know I’m not supposed to say this (and I’m not talking about the script) but simply from what I’ve glimpsed in the rehearsal room, and that prediction is … expect great things.
Fear of Drowning by PRW Jenkins runs at Chapter Tuesday 19 to Saturday 23 April at 7.30pm with a 2pm Matinee on Saturday 23 April. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.chapter.org