Writer: Tom Hartwell
Director: Georgie Staight
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
It’s apt that in the same week that the weathermen warn us that August will be a washout, Flood opens at Covent Garden’s Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. Set in the West Country, after a month’s worth of rain falls in one night, Flood follows the story of Adam, who is trapped by more than the rising water surrounding his house. But while the flood waters rise, this play remains stubbornly shallow.
Adam, gamely played by Jon Tozzi, is an alcoholic prone to blackouts when he’s drunk too much. Like his late mother, who he is preparing to bury, Adam hides bottles of booze all over the house. He worries that he has inherited her drinking problem as she drank while she was pregnant. But Adam has other difficulties too; his best friend, Michael, has hitched up with his sister and his one-time girlfriend is shacked up with his other friend, Ben. Will Adam be able to stay off the sauce long enough to give the eulogy at his mother’s funeral?
Eschewing a play of ideas, Tom Hartwell has given us a soap opera with intrigues, double-crosses, secrets and lies. While Adam has some depth to him, the other characters are weakly drawn, especially the female ones. Hartwell also plays the role of Benn and, although Hartwell’s comic timing is solid, the character quickly becomes a stereotype of sitcom proportions. Ben has managed to escape the country and move to London, but in doing so he has picked up the city’s pretensions. He drinks herbal tea and almond milk, goes to yoga, and is gluten-intolerant. Perhaps this would be funnier if the play was showing outside the capital, but, here, in London, the clichés pile up. Indeed, the play seems to have been written for provincial audiences who believe, like one of the characters, that London’s streets are infested with rats.
A few glimpses of stronger themes flash by, but the drink Hartwell offers us is diluted. A play about the floods in the West Country should, you would think, address the perceived shortcomings of the Environmental Agency to protect those who live in flood-risk areas, but this issue is dealt with in one throwaway line. Likewise, the subject of encroaching gentrification is played for laughs when there is the chance for more nuanced debate.
Despite its flaws, Flood never outstays its welcome, and it’s ably pushed along by Oscar Selfridge’s neat and efficient set. And there’s nothing wrong with the acting either; Nathan Coenen gives a very strong performance as love-struck Michael. So, Flood is not quite in deep water, but the actors need something more substantial to hold on to.
Runs until 5 August 2017 | Image: Toby Lee