Thursday, 15 June 2017

Review Danny And The Deep Blue Sea

Peter Barker applauds the acting and direction in an American one-act play which uses dance and music to enhance the action

 Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
by John Patrick Shanley

Barroom Encounter

The latest play at the tiny upstairs Old Red Lion Theatre stage is an intense but hopeful two-hander set around the relationship of two lonely and damaged people in a grimy and noisy New York.

The two castaways thrown up by the ocean of life, Danny (Gareth O’Connor) and Roberta (Megan Lloyd-Jones), meet while seeking solace in a seedy bar in the Bronx district of the city.

John Patrick Shanley wrote this short, 75-minute play in 1984 but it still feels contemporary. The play’s arc, two people meeting in darkness, pain and anger and travelling towards light, happiness and hope, may be conventional, even sketchy, but it still works.
Danny is scarred, bruised and bloodied after a brawl when he came off the victor but fears repercussions. Roberta’s scars are not so visible, but she has a childhood secret for which, although the innocent party, she blames herself.

O’Connor’s Danny conveys the brutishness and the uncommunicative nature of a man trapped within his aggression. Lloyd-Jones brings the right sassiness and hurt to the role matching Danny’s physical violence with a strength which still has a vulnerable spot, her neediness.

One of the strongest parts of the production are the two episodes of superb choreographed music and dance by the pair  (choreography by Kate Lines set to music by Ross O’Connor) which also manages to move the plot and action along. It’s a joy to see some dance in a production like this.

This reminded me of the Sea Interludes in Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes communicating gracefully internal storms and passion. Indeed Danny is much like Grimes, lacking eloquence and on the outside of society, needing to be understood, even if the play's ending is much more upbeat than the opera.

Nevertheless, the play feels rather slight, lacking the length and breadth of a more substantial play and the drama, however well-acted, suffers a little for its brevity.

Shanley is probably best-known as screenwriter for Hollywood movie Moonstruck, but also won a Pulitzer for his play Doubt, A Parable, soon to have a London revival.

Director Courtney Larkin keeps this revival's action fast moving, playing to its strength, the robustness of language. The minimal set is suitably seedy as a bar with cheap tables and worn seats, and later a messy bedroom.

The ending, it has to be said, stretches the bounds of credibility. However it would be mean-spirited to ignore the strengths of this production -- both the performances and the choreography --  outweighing the limitations of Shanley’s story, and raising this production to an amber/green light.

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