Writer: Jill Paton Walsh (adapted for the stage by Ed Viney)
Director: Ed Viney
Reviewer: Shane Morgan
Originally published in 1967, Jill Paton Walsh’s children’s novel about two boys in 1940 who brave the waters with their motorboat, Dolphin, appears on paper at least to be great material for a film. Its rich use of narrative, the journey of the boys, and the boat itself being a character could easily make this the War Horse of the aquatic world. Director and adaptor Ed Viney has taken it one step further by identifying the human qualities of the story and creating an organic, gentle and engaging 80 minutes of theatre.
As a two hander, Viney has focused on boys Pat (Nik Howden) and John (Harry Livingstone) as the central characters who are from different ends of the spectrum. Pat is a working class London evacuee who lives with his pregnant step-mum on a discarded train carriage. John is educated, comfortable and protected. The two form an unlikely bond that drives them towards an act of heroic selflessness.
The script is strong. Using voice over (Tim Pigott-Smith as the older John) and news reel, the scenes are framed nicely and the dialogue flows well. The dynamic between the two actors (including some nicely observed multi-rolling) is clearly established and the characters of Pat and John are so likeable and engaging that they carry the evening.
What this opening night lacked was courage. All the necessary elements of a successful production are here. Anna Michaels design makes full and confident use of the Brewery with items that are used for a variety of different purposes and both actors are decked out in appropriate 1940’s costume. The impending doom of the war is marked with a constant soundscape of planes and bombs and the audience are placed firmly in the middle of the action. The actors have the material and they know what they want to do with it but as an opener, they lack the attack needed to push the boundaries of the material and chose to play it safe. Often the transitions lack confidence and the lines are raced or stumbled over.
With the advantage of a two week run, The Dolphin Crossing will transform from a well told story to a confident, heart-warming and uplifting parable.
Runs until 28th July 2012.