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Theatre Review



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Waxwing Theatre presents



Writer: Terry Johnson


Director: Ed Bartram


Stage Management: Leigh Alderson & Kyle Davey


Rosemary Branch Theatre


22 Sept – 11 Oct 09








A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Terry Johnson has firmly established himself as a leading playwright in the United Kingdom, building a loyal fan base with strong, well-written plays. Despite him being recognised for plays like Dead Funny and Hysteria, it was Waxwing Theatre’s decision to turn to a production which first made it’s appearance back in 1991 when returning to the Rosemary Branch Theatre. Imagine Drowning is that play, and Ed Bartram is the man at the helm.

Imagine Drowning is, essentially, a tale within a tale, centred around a small bed-and-breakfast in Cumbria. Jane (Stephanie Goodfellow) has arrived in search of her husband David (Tom Harris), who has gone missing. Slowly, as the events surrounding David’s time at the hotel and his interaction with the residents there come to light, Jane pieces together the truth. What starts out as something quite sinister gradually becomes more tragic, not only for husband and wife but every character in the play.

Considering the way the play has been written, Bartram is exceptional in his direction. The play has two narrative strands – we see both Jane’s perspective in the present and David’s perspective from the past, both at the same time, in the exact same locations and with the same supporting cast. The risk of confusion is avoided effortlessly, it being made clear very early as to how and when time jumps. This is very crucial, as the almost film noir-esque style of the play requires the audience to immerse themselves in its world; by establishing the technicalities early on; this is successfully achieved.

It’s pretty safe to assume, then, that if Bartram was successful in his treatment of the technical aspect of the production, he would display equal success in bringing out good performances from his cast. And, yes, it is a very safe assumption. Both Goodfellow and Harris are fantastic, bringing out a beautiful naturalism in their performances. Both of them are likeable, warm personalities, but it is their insecurities (ultimately shaping the climax of the play) that we are drawn to. The other four characters in the play are pivotal. three of them are residents of the bed-and-breakfast, just as pivotal in the play for their roles in not only David’s disappearance but Jane’s search for the truth. Simon Norbury, as wheelchair-bound political activist Tom, is brilliant. His comic timing and line delivery is top-notch; we rely on him for humour when he is on stage, and he responds with great effect. John Shortell is also great as Sam, the young teenager obsessed with sex and violence (though the strong Liverpudlian accent seems out of place). Similarly, though Rory McCallum is strong as the mysterious American wanderer Buddy, he seemed to grapple between an American accent and his own Northern accent. That hurt his performance somewhat, as it all seemed very forced and discomforting.

But while everyone is excellent in the play, it felt only right to leave the best until last. Joanne Hildon, as Brenda, is exceptional. Hildon has perfect stage presence, from her excellent line delivery to her facial expressions. She seemed to get into the skin of the character of Brenda beautifully, switching between bizarre, bumbling humour and heartbreaking melancholy with little difficulty. She is definitely the shining star of the play and, considering that everyone else is also strong, it is a testament to her natural acting ability.

Actors and director are supported majestically by the designers. Every effort has been made to have the set as authentic as possible, the designer going as far as to track down props that looked in place. Lighting and sound was also used cleverly, be it when showing the television turned on, or sound effects used to enhance suspense. Authenticity and reality is the production’s biggest strength, and this is proof of just how important the technical side is in creating that.

Imagine Drowning is an intelligent play that explores the human psyche with great sincerity. Though the production definitely dabbles in the surreal at certain points, I feel that the reality of its world is what makes it such a joy to watch. Strong performances, exceptional direction and a creative technical team have worked together with great success. A must-watch.



Tuesday – Saturday: 7.30pm

Sundays: 2.30pm

Tickets: £12 / £10 concessions


Rosemary Branch Theatre, The Rosemary Branch, 2 Shepperton Road, London N1 3DT

Box Office: 0207 704 6665









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