Asked at short notice in 2008 to write a play for the Bush Theatre in London, Simon Stephens came up with Sea Wall. “I wanted to write a monologue,” he said. “I wanted to write about a sudden (event). I wanted to write about fathering a daughter. I wanted to write about my increasing atheism.”
He wrote with the actor Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Fleabag) in mind, and it was a hit. It is a small play – barely more than 40 minutes duration. It is full of tiny particulars and yet, just beyond that, its themes are unfathomably large and cosmic. It is like the sea wall itself.
Alex is a young-ish man who is living the London life. He has a beautiful wife Helen, an adorable daughter Lucy, and he makes good money taking photographs for British Home Stores catalogues. He and his family visit Helen’s father, Arthur, in the South of France. These idyllic holidays complete their fortunate, almost complacent, life. It is during one of these glittering aquatic days that his world is flipped over, irrevocably, into darkness and remorse.
Flying Penguin Productions director, David Mealor, has remounted his 2018 production of Sea Wall and it is more assured than ever.
With the same creative team, every facet is unified into an outstanding theatrical experience. Kathryn Sproul’s minimal set featuring a grey wall like a standing stone (and a chair for the actor) is expansively – then sparsely – lit by Chris Petridis, as the narration veers between elation and despair. Quincy Grant’s almost subliminal score interweaves trickling solo piano and occasional strings with rhythmic tides and a child’s humming.
As Alex, Renato Musolino is outstanding. At times self-satisfied, at others, naïve and vulnerable, his monologue leaps from quirky domestic details to Meaning-of-Life pondering. Stephens revels in making his text a wonky blend of Richard Curtis and Jean-Paul Sartre. Musolino embraces and expertly manages these disparate elements, as Mealor does with the production as a whole. And Musolino’s final 10 minutes are pin-drop galvanising.
Sea Wall marks a terrific beginning for theatre in this year’s Fringe. In these difficult COVID times it is especially gratifying to find excellence so close to home.
Sea Wall is playing at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until Sunday, February 21.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.