‘Theres a lot to like’: THE GULF – Tristan Bates Theatre

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Liz DyerLeave a Comment

Tristan Bates Theatre, London – until 5 May 2018

We could be forgiven, as Audrey Cefaly’s The Gulf begins, for thinking we’d stumbled on an idyllic scene. Two women sit by the water in what appears to be companionable silence: one fishing, the other sunbathing. It’s only when the silence is broken that we begin to realise the vast distance that separates Kendra and Betty, even when they’re sitting right next to each other. Stranded on a broken down fishing boat, as the light fades around them, the couple is forced for the first time to really face up to their problems and make some tough decisions about their future.

The Gulf is an intimate and realistic portrayal of a relationship in crisis; like any couple, Betty and Kendra’s conversations keep circling back to the same few subjects, and when there’s nothing left to say they lapse into long, awkward silences. Unfortunately, in achieving this verisimilitude, the play sacrifices any sense of drama, and the lack of pace in Matthew Gould’s production means that much like the broken down boat the two women are stuck on, it ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere.

All of which is a pity, because the performances from Louisa Lytton and Anna Acton are very good. Both nail the distinctive Alabama accent, and we get a clear sense of both the journey their characters go on throughout the play and the striking difference in their personalities. Betty (Acton) is an optimist, who always says what’s on her mind. She is on a mission to improve her own life but blind to the fact that her attempts to do the same for Kendra might be misconstrued as criticism. Kendra (Lytton), on the other hand, is quite content to stay where she’s comfortable; unlike Betty, she mostly keeps her thoughts to herself, but when pushed reveals a deep vulnerability that’s masked by her tough and at times deliberately provocative manner.

It’s also refreshing to see a play that depicts a same-sex relationship but doesn’t make it the main focus of the story. In fact Betty and Kendra’s sexuality is completely incidental to the plot: they could be two women, two men, a man and a woman, or any combination, and the issues they’re facing would still be exactly the same, because they go far deeper than gender or sexuality.

Visually, the production is impressive in its detail – boat engine, picnic lunches, fish guts and all – although at times this contributes further to the slowing of the action; Betty’s careful preparation of a snack, for instance, pauses proceedings for a good couple of minutes, and is particularly frustrating because the audience can’t see what she’s doing. Mitchell Reeve’s lighting works very well, however, fading imperceptibly over the course of the 90 minutes, until the two characters end up sitting in near darkness.

There’s a lot to like about The Gulf, as it delves insightfully into what makes relationships work, and what makes them fail. Unfortunately, though, despite strong performances the play is let down by a lack of drama and pace, making it difficult to really engage with Betty and Kendra’s predicament – as much as we might want to.

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Liz Dyer
A lifelong fan who's always been far more comfortable watching theatre than making it, Liz Dyer fell into blogging very much by accident after joining the blog team at London Theatre Direct. From there, she began reviewing regularly for LondonTheatre1.com and (fellow Mate) Carn's Theatre Passion, before setting up her own site Theatre Things in 2015 to cover shows across London and Kent. She tweets from her blog at @theatrethingsuk and personally at @lizzid82.
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Liz Dyer on FacebookLiz Dyer on RssLiz Dyer on Twitter
Liz Dyer
A lifelong fan who's always been far more comfortable watching theatre than making it, Liz Dyer fell into blogging very much by accident after joining the blog team at London Theatre Direct. From there, she began reviewing regularly for LondonTheatre1.com and (fellow Mate) Carn's Theatre Passion, before setting up her own site Theatre Things in 2015 to cover shows across London and Kent. She tweets from her blog at @theatrethingsuk and personally at @lizzid82.

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