I’m falling absolutely inside of myself”
We open in a photography studio, natural light emanating across space, and the sounds of the outside world drifting in through the windows. It is still.
Enter Alex, a man with much on his mind, but cautious on where to start. Yet once he begins, it becomes clear that his story is being fuelled by more than meets the eye.
Sea Wall‘s inception is just as intriguing as its execution (highly recommend the read). Commissioned for the Bush Theatre in 2008, this short was designed with a disarming naturalism in mind: one actor, minimal set, sound, and in natural daylight. As replicated in the short-film a few years later (a year after Andrew Scott’s debut as Moriarty in Sherlock), pairing such stillness with the conversational delivery lures the audience down a seemingly normal path.
Conversations in their natural habitat behave very differently to playscripts, and are rarely linear. They jump between stories, and often the connection is unclear. In the same way, Sea Wall jumps from one story to the next, sometimes verbally connected by a theme or a person, others only known to Alex. Ultimately everything he discusses dances around one overriding theme – something he keeps to himself – only to be revealed in the play’s closing minutes.
How Alex reveals this event is equally as understated as the rest, making it all the more tragic; as British Theatre writes, the ‘melodrama is missing‘. For a tragedy to be explored with such calmness, the experience becomes almost meditative. The audience becomes an observer, one step removed from the emotion, that as we are lulled further into Alex’s story, we are both unprepared and yet completely aware of what is unfolding. Like witnessing a car crash, all at once you can see the event and its precursor in its entirety, while knowing full well there is nothing you can do to stop it.
This deception is at the core of the Sea Wall‘s impact, depicting that fragility between numbing grief and the normality of life. The subtlety of the whole production, from sound to stage, is truly what lures the audience in. On stage, I’d imagine this to be incredibly intimate and more touching to see live, those closing minutes in particular. On screen, even with the set up to replicate that heart-to-heart style however, the closing minutes are where I personally would have preferred less time spent on building a picture, and a touch more spent on the denouement – with so much nuance at play, if you blink, you might miss it.