Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea – Park Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Emanuele Aldrovandi

Director: Daniel Emery

Emanuele Aldrovandi is a young playwright and translator garlanded with praise in his native Italy. His 2015 play, Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea, comes to the Park Theatre after a short run at Seven Dials Theatre last year. It’s a dark absurdist comedy set in a near future in which European economies have collapsed and people are now migrating to distant parts of the world in hope of a better life.

The action takes place in a shipping container, neatly staged by director Daniel Emery in an appropriately small space. Three migrants, The Beautiful One, The Tall One and The Stocky One, find themselves part of ‘this ultra-fragile travelling confidence’. Terrifying container owner is The Burly One, brilliantly played by British-Chilean actor Felix Garcia Guyer. Guyer has the menace of a mad bull, slowly rotating his head from side to side and rolling his eyes. He can talk in a deceptively intimate voice, but you’re never sure when he’s going to strike.

At some point, he uses a microphone to give a presentation about the business he’s in, euphemistically named International Transport, his speciality ‘the conveyance of large quantities of material’. He is, of course, a people smuggler. The nice bit of absurdity here is that the three paying passengers imagine they’re going somewhere different. The Beautiful One, a spiky performance by Yasmine Haller, believes they’re going to Australia. The more urbane character, The Tall One, played by Will Bishop, hopes it’s Japan. Marco Young is The Stocky One, a belligerent young Scot with a criminal record – it seems no coincidence Aldrovandi has translated Trainspotting. He wants to get to Venezuela.

The three are all, in their way, scarred by whatever it is they are fleeing. They never exchange names, nor ask one another about themselves. We hear little of their backstories. Posh boy, Tall, talks regretfully of failing to listen to his parents who wanted him to stay at home. His admission to being a writer, hoping to get a book out of the experience, fails to endear him to the other two. He is roundly mocked for his suitcase, neatly stacked with ironed shirts. Beautiful has one treasured possession, a hairbrush that may have been given to her by her grandmother. But if this has any dramatic resonance, it’s hard to find. Nasty Stocky reveals his character early on, immediately trying to take cash off Tall.

An hour and a half is a long time to spend in the company of characters who are evidently not going to develop and who probably will never arrive at their destination. That said, there’s a storm halfway through, terrifically realised by lighting and sound designers, Catja Hamilton and Jamie Lu. This apparently sinks the vessel, but leaves their container – fortunately if improbably made of wood – floating. Bulky seems to have gone overboard, so now the three are without food and water.

It’s at this stage Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea takes on a very dark tone. In all honesty, the production could do with some trigger warnings as the violence that ensues is distressingly realistic. And while it’s more or less bearable to watch the three drink their own urine, the suggestion that they resort to drinking fresh human blood is revolting.

It’s hard to say what Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea is actually about. It doesn’t try to say much about the whole thorny issue of migration, and it’s hardly news to imply that people put under stress act badly. A strange play.

Runs until 30 September 2023

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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