Review: The Sea Project

by Jane

Bob (Iain Sinclair) is a carpenter. He lives by himself, simply, near the sea. One day he finds Eva (Meredith Penman) washed up on the shore. She speaks with an accent; her memory and a finger are missing, no clue to where they went. Bob takes Eva back to his house. He sits her at his table, he gives her tea, he tries to be the best man he can be in this situation.

Eva stays, trying to piece things together. She friends a boy (Travis Cardona) on the beach, who collects things others have lost: music, shoes. She waits for Bob when he goes to work; she thinks of a future they could have together. Turning up at the house is Maciek (Justin Cotta). He, too, came from somewhere via the sea, he too speaks with an accent. He tells Eva stories of who she was, where she came from. Eva remembers, but only the edges. Small stories, the notes of a song that fill her voice.

In the seaside house, the three must negotiate their new relationships and their old histories.

Beautifully measured in all regards, in The Sea Project it seems at first as if writer Elise Hearst and director Paige Rattray are letting us peak in on a corner of the world which we exist in. As we move through the play, however, we watch as the boundaries we expect – the boundaries that we know bounder our lives – shift out, or slightly to the side.

The Sea Project is about many things in this world which are big: wars and the lives, loves, and memories lost; defining yourself and your place; the lines between the real and imagined. But the story Hearst tells us is of the small, contained. To write about it seems to almost give it more weight than the production itself gives it: in the end, despite all the journeys we take through the show, it feels like we’ve just had a glance at nothing more than the beautiful strands of a new relationship.

In the small space at the Griffin Theatre, emotions are heightened. Tom Hogan’s live guitar encompasses the space more freely and readily than in a larger theatre. David Fleischer’s simple, largely unadorned stage – the smooth reflective surface slightly scuffed towards the end of the run – lets the characters breathe and fill the stage.

Ross Graham’s lighting hits the reflective surface, creating shadows which, like Hearst’s text, acts slightly different to the way we expect shadows to act in our lives. Refracting off the floor, the shadows start half-way up the black walls, adding to the crooked reality.

Simultaneously small enough and big enough to sit perfectly at home in the world of the theatre, The Sea Project has a buoyancy to it. The story – Eva’s story, in particular – is left unresolved. There is a constant twinge of sadness. And yet, the work itself is uplifting.

This delightful thing about the work is the simplicity at its heart. The unexpected story of a man who is genuinely kind hearted, doing everything he can to do the right thing – and the interesting joy which comes from having to check yourself for waiting for his secrets or his underside to be reveled. The beauty of a theatre being filled with a rich guitar and a rich voice, and then left open to something wonderful in a voice that is flat.

It sounds corny, or inflated, or silly to say, but I’ll say it anyway: The Sea Project – with the embracement of simple craft in the theatre, of overlapping realities, of the intimate oddly shaped space of the Griffin Theatre – reminded me what exactly it was I feel in love with in sitting in a dark room with strangers. Although I call myself a writer it’s not something I can put into words. It’s a feeling, a tugging, a smile and tears all at once. And it was in that theatre.

Arthur with Griffin Independent presents The Sea Project by Elise Hearst. Directed by Paige Rattray, dramaturg Amelia Evans, assistant director Catherine David, designer David Fletcher, lighting designer Ross Graham, composer Tom Hogan, voice coach Jennifer White, stage manager Victor Arces. With Travis Cardona, Justin Cotta, Meredith Penman, and Iain Sinclair. At the Griffin Theatre, Sydney. Season closed.

Photos by John Feely