Review by Daz Gale
The small but mighty Finborough Theatre in West Brompton has built up a reputation since it was founded in 1980. Dedicated to presenting new British writing as well as showing UK (and sometimes world) premieres of works, there is always something different and exciting to enjoy here. It was this reputation that had me longing to experience the theatre for myself. The show that finally took my Finborough virginity was the UK premiere of Salt-Water Moon. The question is - did my first Finborough experience leave me feeling salty or did it ensure it wouldn't be many moons before my next visit?
Set in 1926, Salt-Water Moon tells the story of Jacob Mercer who returned home to a remote fishing village in Newfoundland (You’ll be pleased to know I resisted the urge to sing ‘Welcome To The Rock’) in an attempt to win back his former sweetheart, Mary Snow. However, the course of true love never ran smooth and, in this case, Mary is now engaged to someone else while simultaneously still feeling wounded from Jacobs abrupt departure a year earlier. Throughout the course of a speedy 75 minutes, we see these two young (ex) lovers bond and argue – but could this story have a happy ending?
With nobody else in the cast other than Jacob (Joseph Potter) and Mary (Bryony Miller) it can often be an intense and intimate story which very much works in its favour. Aside from several fleeting moments where each of the pair is on stage alone, the majority of the play sees the two sharing the light(s) on stage as they discuss (bicker) their fractured history and potential future.
A story that intense is no easy task for any performer so it is reassuring that both Joseph Potter and Bryony Miller handle this with ease. Joseph Potter emulates Hollywood movie stars in his performance, both from the classic era more befitting of when Salt-Water Moon is set, and strangely a Jim Carrey-esque element in parts of his character. That may sound strange but it surprisingly works, leaving a well rounded and charismatic character Joseph plays to perfection.
Bryony Miller’s Mary is the polar opposite in portrayal – more introverted and delicate in her choices, she gives a beautiful performance that is at times understated but always glorious to watch. It’s the chemistry between the pair that truly elevates the piece with Miller and Potter demonstrating the complexities of the relationship and the history of the pair in a way that feels authentic and natural. Moments of intimacy are mixed in with the more brash moments as the pair come to blows in such a way that you never quite know what will happen next or how the thing will end which is deeply satisfying in a play that captures your attention from start to finish.
The writing from David French should be applauded for its no holds barred depiction of a fractured relationship. Thought-provoking moments blend seamlessly with comedic moments, leading to a play that changes in tone more frequently than the pair changed accents but in a way that never feels disjointed and instead leads to a fair representation of an uneven and uncertain relationship. Nuances in the characterisations are interesting to watch with Jacob in particular open to interpretation with attitudes that could veer dangerously close to misogynistic at certain points but still manages to prove multi-layered throughout, always leaving you guessing who the real Jacob truly is.
The small space of the 50 seater venue is transformed thanks to Mim Houghtons set design which is expertly utilised through Peter Kavanagh’s direction. A limited use of props means the performers are utilised making every facial expression and movement be it slight or overstated is all the more impactful. The whole thing is tied together thanks to Neil Brinkworth's atmospheric lighting allowing the audience to be transported to the sleepy village nearly 100 years ago.
No bells and whistles are required here - Salt-Water Moon is a gorgeous show thanks to its stunning portrayal from its two talented cast members beautifully bringing David French’s always interesting writing to life. Simple and understated, the end result is a beautifully romantic piece of theatre that effortlessly manages to provide escapism and demonstrate love on that stage, not just between the pair but what the power of theatre can do.
Salt-Water Moon plays at Finborough Theatre until 28th January. Tickets from finboroughtheatre.co.uk
Photos by Lucy Hayes