What’s the difference between optimism and stupidity? Who’s in the bedroom? What year is it?
What’s going on, anyway?
All these questions and more arise from the first scene of Rough Hewn’s production of Shells, a new play by Trinity’s Howard Coase that opens in 6th week in Balliol’s Pilch studio.
Written in response to Dawn King’s “Foxfinder,” Shells is set in a dystopian England in which the world is quite literally growing smaller—that is to say, the beaches are all eroding away. There’s also hint of some pseudo-Orwellian government looming in background, as a pair young men named Benny and Luke bemoan the Newspeak-like renaming of towns and refer obliquely to shadowy authorities lurking about.
Coase’s work, co-written and directed by Eddie Gilmore, resembles a cross between Waiting for Godot and Edward Albee’s The Sandbox. Benny (Harley Viveash) and Lewis (James Kitchin) talk surrounded by a spare set of a hut, a cabin and some sand, and not much happens—at least, not right away.
In the first scene (the only part of the play reviewers were shown), Benny and Lewis banter nervously about a woman who may or may not be a woman, a landlord that may or may not show up, and a boat that may or may not have existed in the first place. It’s mundane stuff they’re talking about, yet also strangely eerie and compelling.
Much credit here must go to the actors, who cultivate an acute sense of jittery tension that pervades the scene. Viveash’s Lewis taps his feet, shivers and hugs himself close, while Kitchin’s Benny vacillates between nervous, overeager chatter about trifles, and semi-manic verbal abuse of his friend’s eternal optimism. Yet despite the strained nature of their characters’ relationship, Kitchin and Viveash are still skilled enough at their craft to conjure a strong fraternal bond between the young men.
Once the show moves to the Pilch room, the audience will, according to the set design, quite literally be out at sea. For the show’s first scene, at least, they will be figuratively out at sea as well. But it should be worth seeing what just might wash up on shore.
Shells is showing at Balliol’s Pilch studio from 20th-23rd November at 7.30 pm (tickets here)
PHOTO / Rough-Hewn Theatre