Cinema has only recently embraced 3D; theater takes it for granted. But designer Es Devlin has taken depth-of-field to the next level for this multi-media production of David Watson’s new play, seating the audience on the floor and unfolding the drama on screens and stages all around us. The opening scene places us inside a moving car, out of whose windows we see a panorama of rural County Down, Ireland. By the play’s climax, we’re on the Millennium Bridge while, on all four sides, fuzzily filmed, London twinkles into the night sky. But both script and experimental staging are only partially successful in Watson’s low-key mood piece.
The play is constructed from a series of two-hander interactions: between a piano teacher and his protege; between a soon-to-be-emigre wooing back his lost love; between two rootless youths in a cemetery in Birmingham. Cumulatively, these snapshots add up to the story of how nine people’s lives are affected in the aftermath of a 7/7-style London terrorist attack.
It’s an elliptical piece by the young playwright, best known for “Flight Path” at London’s Bush Theater. As Watson plonks us into the middle of successive dialogues between people with no seeming connection to one another, the initial lack of purpose tests the patience. So does swivelling around on one’s backside then straining to hear and see a new scene, as it unfolds behind a gauze on the far side of the room.
Gradually, the play exerts a grip. It emerges that one character, Vincent (Adam Best), has been killed in a “major incident” in London. The policeman (Kevin McMonagle) who breaks this news to Vincent’s grandmother (Dearbhla Molloy) himself lost a son in infancy. Sometimes, Watson is too self-consciously poetic as he strains to distill the experience of loss. There are scenes, too, when the complex emotions felt by his characters are undermined by the contrivance that demands they blurt them out to total strangers.
But when Watson tries less hard, he’s more eloquent about the bleak need to carry on, the tension between exorcising and preserving the memories when a loved one dies. In Clare Lizzimore’s production — the first for her and Watson’s company Pieces Productions — Robin Soans contributes a dotty German music teacher, and McMonagle is the standout as the policeman and husband living the childless life he never expected to lead. And latterly, the novel staging pays out. To be surrounded by juddering film footage and echoing dialogue as designer Devlin evokes two lovers’ meeting on Millennium Bridge is to hazily recall those end-of-the-affair moments when no one wants to be the first to say goodbye.
Watson might have given us more of the British Muslim youths who committed the atrocity; we meet them only in one intriguing but inconclusive scene. He prefers instead to focus not on cause but effect in a low-key mood-piece notable not for incident but for its lambent empathy with the bereaved.