Tucked away amongst the startlingly shiny office blocks of Euston is the Camden People’s Theatre. Delightfully ramshackle and serving quality wine for very reasonable prices, it has the air of student digs or a proletarian meeting place.
Staging new work is always going to be risky. If an audience has never seen your work before then you’re leaping blindly into the theatrical world and hoping your punters understand what you’re trying to create. Unfortunately the show Gulf jumped too soon. Written by Jeff Scot and Alister MacQuarrie, Gulf attempts to show the seedy underworld of the internet (the ‘black net’) where paedophiles lurk behind computer screens, whilst simultaneously following a mother and daughter’s rocky relationship. The trouble is the structure is all over the place and the supposedly subtle clues as to what the play is about explain nothing. Similarly, the mother daughter relationship lacks grounding in reality and doesn’t engage the audience.
Alas, the staging and direction don’t offer up anything much more inspired. Charlie Kenbar’s direction is clunky and at times downright confusing. The cast are constantly plunged into darkness, while scenes staged on the floor mean that 90% of the audience can’t see a thing. Abstract sections aren’t signified meaning the audience is left confused as to who the actors are playing and if they’re in reality. The show as a whole has the air of an A-Level drama piece where the examiner has asked students to create a piece of work influenced by a current theatre company (in this case Complicite) about a current issue (child pornography). The incredibly frustrating issue is that there are a couple of scenes that have a spark of slickness and interest, but these are then washed away as quickly as they arrive.
The text and direction don’t give the actors a great deal of material to work on and unfortunately some of them simply aren’t up for the challenge. The stand out performance comes from Elliot Hall as the secondary school teacher offering words of encouragement. He is surprisingly relaxed and at ease in the role and the scenes with him in stand head and shoulders above the rest.
I love new writing and I enjoy watching companies emerge from the chrysalis of rehearsals to stage a fresh piece of work, but in the case of Gulf I was very disappointed. The budget may be small and the actors young, but I’ve seen much better done on much less.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Gulf is playing at the Camden People’s Theatre until 26 July. Click here for more information and to book tickets.