IF you like your culture short, sharp and snappy, may I urge you to see Sea Wall before the month is out. But bring along a handkerchief because you will probably need it.
Written by Simon Stephens, this 30-minute play is a one person show, starring Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty in Sherlock), for whom it was written. Boy, does it pack a punch or three.
Little prepares you for what is to come as Scott fidgets on a stage bereft of props apart from a lone bottle of water. He smiles, he paces up and down, and draws admiration for his good looks and obvious charm from most of the audience. Slim as a rake and fit as a butcher’s dog. Clad in jeans and a tee shirt. Poldark with clothes.
With his gentle Irish lilt, he then starts telling his story, that of Alex, a photographer. Although the story line is not linear, he introduces us to his wife Helen whom he adores and daughter Lucy. Also father-in-law Arthur, an ex- military man who loves his tennis and God.
Arthur has a house on the French Riviera and Alex’s family are frequent visitors. Father-in-law takes Alex scuba diving and points out the sea wall – a deep drop of the sea bed that causes the water to eddy. It is dark and terrifying. A synonym for the horror to come.
The two of them have discussions and arguments about the existence of God. ‘Where is God?’ asks Alex. ‘On the edge of the solar system? On the edge of the universal?’ ‘We don’t know,’ says Arthur.
This is all the surrounding packaging because contained within is a story of personal tragedy. One that will blow your mind – and explains why Alex says he has a hole riven through his stomach. One moment, there is nothing but humour. The next, personal tragedy. Emptiness. Numbness.
The writing is brilliant but it is Scott’s delivery of Stephens’ words that makes Sea Wall unmissable. You laugh with him. You hang on his every word and every pause – of which there are many. And ultimately, you also cry with him.
Scott hauls the audience in on a sturdy fishing line, interacts with them on occasion and is not deflected – by either an errant mobile phone ring tone (he simply pauses and smiles) or two individuals nosily making an early exit from the Gods of the Old Vic’s Lilian Baylis Circle. At the end, the audience cannot climb out of their seats quickly enough to give him a standing ovation.
Sea Wall is thirty minutes of theatrical excellence. Red Bull theatre without the calorie overload (unless you decide on a pre-theatre glass of delicious Taittinger). Grab it if you can – the play that is. Tickets start from £8.50. One of the best £8.50s you will ever spend.
Sea Wall runs until June 30 at the Old Vic in London.