Sunday, 6 May 2018

REVIEW: The Gulf at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Two women. One boat. Nothing but open water and a day of facing their demons. ‘The Gulf’ at The Tristan Bates Theatre a European premiere from playwright Audrey Cefaly is an uninterrupted hour and a half of two people coming to terms with the simplest yet hardest task any human has to do: live.

Set in the present day, ‘The Gulf’ sees two lovers spending a day fishing in the Alabama Delta. Betty a control freak who’s obsessed with thinking existentially and paving a direction and purpose for her life, and Kendra, a strong independent brash individual with no sense of belonging or direction but with no need for it. 

Matthew Gould has provided the piece with measured and natural direction, keeping it living and breathing throughout. The balance against Cefaly’s writing is perfect, she writes so assuredly and candidly about life in an honest and truthful way. It is very easy in a play, that sees two people essentially having an endless conversation, to get lulled in a sense of languor, however, you live every moment with these two girls in a fluid and captivating way.

Anna Acton provides a heavily detailed performance as Betty, a women of two halves battling against each other, Acton rides the line perfectly between the two, Betty is perpetually trying to fix the flaws in her lover as a remedy for her desperately trying to pave over her own broken sense of self, trying to be more than she believes at the core she is worth. 

Kendra on the other hand’s emotion is far more internalised than her lover. Betty is prone to outbursts of emotion, demanding affection and questioning Kendra’s loyalty on more than one occasion, whereas Kendra remains assured and unfazed. Louisa Lytton plays the stoic character with ease and heartbreaking poignance. Kendra is a character that has been so affected by grief that she chooses to not take chances on life, she wants to stay where she is, happy and fishing because she questions her mortality and doesn’t want to regret making decisions that would please other people and Lytton captures this beautifully. 

What ‘The Gulf’ does so gorgeously is it highlights the stark differences all
relationships have on some level, how although we hate to admit it, we strive to a certain degree be it small or large, to create aspects of our other half in our image. Also, how it’s the differences that we resent because it’s often what we wish we had in us the most. Betty wishing she had the surety of Kendra, likewise Kendra wishing she could live out a whole future of opportunity like Betty and not think it’s beyond her. 

The small intimate space at the Tristan Bates is perfect for this piece, Mitchell Reeve and Matthew Gould’s simple yet stunning set confines us to the beauty and pain of the love and hate that these two women have for each other. The Gulf is between them, the water it surrounds them. The biggest question ‘The Gulf’ asks is when life throws it’s pressures and confusions at you, which one are you, the one that keeps their head above the water, or the one that drowns?

Review by Ben Hipkiss

Rating: ★★★★★
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