In Sea Wall, a short play by Simon Stephens, Alex recounts a life that he loves – full of joy, warmth and happy relationships. But we know that somehow he has lost all this, and we are also witnessing an elegy. Sudden Impulse are one of Buxton Fringe’s most reliable visiting theatre companies, but their reputation for quality has not been won by playing safe, and this is another example of challenging work tackled with aplomb.
It is a brave interpretation by director Simon NW Winterman and actor Jack Brosnan. Against a bare set, Alex barely moves from the spot; the tiniest gesture or look has to pack in so much meaning. In an incredibly controlled performance, Brosnan’s ability to convey emotion through a catch in his voice, or an emotion swallowed and repressed, is tremendous. At one point the simple act of turning his back speaks volumes.
It is not the simplest script – careful attention is needed early on to get to grips with who is who – and for a short work, it roams across big questions about god, love, and what makes life good. Not only that, but in many cases the telling meaning is contained in the pauses, the elisions, the inability to find the right words and what he does not say, as much as it is in the descriptions of his family and their life together, or the philosophical discussions about the nature of god.
The play may be intense, but that must not be confused with unremitting darkness. There is great beauty here, luminous descriptions of time and place, and Alex communicates a sense of wonder that means that hope is never entirely extinguished; while the metaphor of the sea wall captures something ineffable that I wasn’t quite expecting.
The performance is almost too technically perfect, in that my admiration for the skill of Brosnan’s acting creates a little distance. I didn’t quite feel as moved as I could have; the emotional connection was mitigated. But perhaps we recognise these stories and protect ourselves – maybe a detail will pierce one person’s defenses, but not another’s.
However this play affects you, you will leave astounded at Jack Brosnan’s performance, and with even more admiration for the work Sudden Impulse are dedicated to producing.