Pros: Natural dialogue and believable acting. The set is better than any I’ve seen in a fringe venue.
Cons: A slight clash of acting styles and a little too long.
When Tony Blair came into power at the dawn of New Labour in the early summer of 1997, I was six. But it only takes a few seconds blast of D: ream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and I’m right back to that heady time. Of course back then, I had no inkling of how that catchy tune related to the political climate of the time, but I remember the mood, it was one of optimism.
This hopeful feeling pervades at the South Park Lido in Bermondsey as the play commences. This is true even for pool attendant Geordie, real name Rob (played by Darren Beaumont) who is “between abodes” and is kipping at the pool and drinking heavily. The rest of the staff is made up of manager Trevor (Alex Scott Fairley) who has Labour Councillors for in-laws, hard-as-nails Steph (Rachel Howells) who takes everything in her stride (crap husband included) and new boy Ashley (Joshua Okusanya) who has several table tennis championship titles but not much of a clue. Visitors include the villainous boss Mr. Slade (Jonathan Kemp) and various ghosts (Alan Booty) who appears to an inebriated Rob.
The first thing to note about Pool is that it looks really good. This is certainly the most impressive set I’ve seen in a fringe venue. Well judged lighting and sound helped to create the world on stage. As a cynical reviewer, I was prepared for (as they say in cricket) “All the gear, no idea,” but this wasn’t quite the case.
The performance, which involves the staff of the lido joining together to save it from council cuts, depends entirely on chemistry. In this department, it succeeds, with workplace banter zipping back forth with incredible energy. The group dynamics feel real and natural so when Mr. Slade arrives as a highly-strung parody, it’s hard to compute. There is a definite clash of acting styles here and Mr. Slade becomes such an integral part of the story in the second act that the discordant styles becomes jarring. At the play’s climax, Kemp’s character has a hysterical breakdown, although his performance has been such a caricature from the outset that it barely registers.
The rest of the cast give pretty measured performances but this play belongs to Darren Beaumont who shines as Geordie/Rob. He moves easily between contained dryness to a desperate pleading with God, without dropping an iota of believability. The only thing hard to buy, is the quasi-romance that seems to appear near the end of the piece between Rob and Steph; something which is totally absent from the first act. It seems odd that the first half seems dedicated to, if anything, building chemistry between Rob and Ashley and then switches half way through.
The other way in which this play excels, is its capture of period, for it all feels incredibly dated. The most telling part of this is the plot of saving the pool so the council don’t build a theatre. As a theatre practitioner, sat in a theatre audience, in 2014 Tory Britain, it’s hardly a cause I can get behind and in this regard, the piece seems slightly ill judged. But there’s no need to get too glum about arts cuts, I’m at an Arts Council England funded new writing festival after all, Things Can Only Get Better….
Author: Tom Harvey
Director: Kate Bannister
Producer: Write Now Festival
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://brockleyjackstudio.ticketsource.co.uk/events
Booking Until: 7th June