The Sea Project is a difficult play to make out. This is probably because the central character, Eva (Meredith Penman), is difficult to make out. An amnesiac washed up on a beach with nothing but the memory of how she takes her tea, she remembers at once too much and too little, her memories coming back to her in waves as suitcases wash up on the shore, at once a blessing and a curse.
There were all the ingredients of a great story and a great play in The Sea Project, and yet I came out of it feeling like something was missing. It was a great show in terms of plot - the intricate symbols linking back to each other led to a little ‘a-ha!' moment every time you made the connection - and yet not so much in terms of character. This is a big problem, because The Sea Project is very much a character driven show. It relies particularly on the character of Eva, on the audience wanting to find out more about her, and ultimately, I'm not sure she was very interesting.
The trappings of her past were interesting, certainly. A amnesiac woman with a foreign accent mysteriously washed up? That is the stuff of many a story. But this was, I felt, the high point for Eva as an interesting character. Truly interesting characters should be interesting even without their memories, compelling as they try to recall where they are and how they got there. Eva, sadly, was not. The mirror floor on the Griffin stage did not lie. It reflected Eva back at herself and at the audience: no more and no less than she seemed, really. The hints of her mysterious past had no discernible effect on her apart from her desire to remember them. It was hard to get a real sense of what shaped her character until the very end (and even then, it was still a bit sketchy).
Eva is not the only character that suffered from this strange under-development. Bob (Iain Sinclair), the working-class hero that discovered Eva on the beach, was almost too simple, while the purpose of Travis Cardona's Samuel was nigh on impenetrable. The character of Maciek (Justin Cotta), another washed up refugee who somehow knew Eva, had the possibility of real complexity, but his character was ultimately treated with what felt like too much subtlety: it was difficult to understand, in the end, why he did what he did.
This all sounds very critical so far; and yet, The Sea Project was still an interesting and worthwhile show. My favourite part of the show was the music. Tom Hogan's soundscape added a tangible sense of mystery and atmosphere to the play that greatly added to its impact. Paige Rattray's direction is, as always, precise and compelling, and she draws some wonderful performances from her actors (Meredith Penman in particular). There are some moments that are wonderfully fascinating and exquisitely realised. Unfortunately, they are outweighed by the fact that, ultimately, it is a bit confusing.
If you come to see The Sea Project, be prepared to pay attention and think hard. It is not an easy play to watch. There are rewards, but in the end, I found it a little unsatisfying. There are some very fine performances and wonderful moments, but it is at once too deep and too shallow: it reveals the surface and the depths of the characters without too much of anything in between.
Griffin Theatre Company presents
The Sea Project
By Elise Hearst
Dates: 5 - 29 September 2012
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross