Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

In Doggerland

Tom Morton-Smith
Box of Tricks
Lowry Studio, Salford
07 November 2013 to 09 November 2013

A smart and engaging new play from a new young theatre company, committed to “the next generation of new writing.”

In Doggerland is set at the intersection of the lives of two sets of people – a father and daughter still coping with loss, and a young brother and sister who unwittingly become a catalyst for change.

The delicacy of playwright Tom Morton-Smith’s narrative is that this becomes a play about identity, both lost and found, and even the role that photographs – or alcohol for that matter – can sometimes play in the process.

An intricate and intriguing story is peeled away with extreme delicacy. Morton-Smith and director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder create four concise and credible characters, even if their coming together revolves around the credulity-stretching coincidence of a snapped photograph.

But deal with that and there’s still an elaborate drama wrapped around memories, images and grief. The father Sam (Clive Moore) is gifted a quite exceptional little speech about the drowning pain of loss.

He’s one of the four emotionally brittle characters submerged in a metaphorical Doggerland, the terrain that once connected Britain to Europe. Moore is a familiar face around the region’s theatres, and on TV, and can easily convey the sense of a soul lost at sea.

Young newcomers Benjamin Blyth and Jennifer Tan, as the brother and sister Linus and Marnie, shoulder an equal burden of the dramatic weight. He’s been burdened by too much responsibility too early in life, and she’s catching up rapidly after a life put on hold. To say more would spoil the story’s axis.

As Kelly, the grieving daughter, MTA-winning Natalie Grady turns in another eye-catching character from this young actress. Remember the name – you won’t forget the performance.

Reviewer: David Upton

Comments

Comment by David Chadderton

It's certainly an intriguing little piece that does some things very well from a company that has a commendable approach to developing new writing, but I wasn't quite as convinced by it as David.

For me there are some issues in the writing. There are scenes at the beginning and end that serve no purpose at all. The dialogue shifts from that heightened naturalistic style of half-sentences and never stating explicitly what one means to lengthy speeches that move towards a literary lyricism that is over-explanatory about the characters' feelings and the play's themes, which makes later scenes feel 'wordy' and long. There are also big gaps in the backstories of the characters that feel like a cop-out by the writer rather than deliberately leaving the audience to make up their own minds.

That said, these are well-drawn, likeable characters and the many themes and issues are woven well into the intimate, personal stories, even if they are not investigated in as much depth as I would have liked. There's some nice humour in there as well.

Certainly worth seeing though, and another noteable performance from MTA-winner Natalie Grady as David points out.

(And I don't think mentioning the 'heart' of the plot would be a spoiler at all, but as David hasn't stated it I won't either.)

Comment by Kevin Bourke

I was impressed by its intriguing ideas and characters, as well as some terrific performances, notably Ms. Grady (doing drunk convincingly is a lot harder than most actors think!). But somehow it didn't quite live up to its promise. The opening scenes seemed unnecessarily opaque and, like David C., I could have done with knowing just a bit more about the characters overall. The utilitarian set wasn't helpful either, making the scene-changes and shifts in time and place harder work than some audiences may care for. But there's certainly more than enough here to make it well worth seeing, should you get the chance.