Writer and Director: Jonathan Crewe
Jonathan Crewe’s play Under the Radar tries to use the enclosed confines of a submarine as a microcosm of society where misogyny, toxic masculinity and megalomania play out. Returning to the Old Red Lion for a second run, this is almost three plays in one: character piece about two people trying to overcome their daddy issues, an examination of male-female relationships and, in its later stages, an absurdist piece, but it gets a bit submerged in its own bilgewater.
Reporter Lee Stilling is covering the launch of Captain Martin Christensen’s private two-berth submarine, a 43-hour round trip that leaves her alone with him. Initially finding solace in each other’s company, their mutual anxieties about work and family come to the fore but, drinking heavily, events soon take a turn for the worst.
It is never really clear why Crewe’s play needs to be set on a submarine at all except that it represents a small, inescapable space. But for most of the play Lee and Martin could be almost anywhere as they sit on a sofa that could just as easily be in his flat or a pub. In fact, Captain Christensen seems to forget entirely that he has a submarine to drive, leaving it on some kind of straight-line autopilot with no crew while he chats to the reporter about hisrand invention without ever needing to check the radar, gauges, depth or machinery.
There are moments when Crewe’s writing implies how much more Under the Radar could be; the overlong conversation at the start as the pair begins to confide in each other about their intimidating fathers and fears of matching up, and even towards the end of Act One when the tone shifts very quickly to create a far more dangerous situation.
But it is the handling of that situation and its aftermath that becomes a problem. Crewe has much to say about the nature of men and their poor behaviour but by showing in no uncertain terms that Martin crosses a line and then letting the characters behave vaguely about it afterwards, it undermines any political point the play is trying to make. In his Creative Statement in the programme, Crewe suggests the audience is complicit ‘not knowing whether to be shocked or laugh out loud’ but there are no laughs to be had here and certainly no ambiguity about what happened between the characters.
The final section then takes a surreal turn as Crewe introduces horror movie elements that just seem ludicrously out of keeping with the small-scale setting and the intimate nature of the early conversations as the protagonists behave in extreme and unexpected ways. Nicholas Anscombe’s Martin doesn’t know what to do with most of them, creating an unevenness in the character. The play is aiming for the hidden personality implied by the title but the behaviour, though unpleasant, never seems fully credible.
Neither does Eleanor Hill’s Lee who is really just a plot device to explore Martin’s unsavoury responses to her. Lee is a just a bundle of traits with little purpose and no opportunity to expand on her strangely muted reactions. With long scene changes and a superfluous interval, Crewe, as director, finds little momentum in his own play, leaving nothing but a sinking feeling.
Runs until 2 April 2022