Pros: Sweet, moving drama with heartfelt performances. Deals with some tough subject matter while steering clear of clichés.
Cons: The production has not quite reached its desired level of maturity. The lack of sound effects was a bit off-putting at times.
The theatre hosting Can You Hear Seagulls? was a small room above a noisy pub in Fulham playing cheesy rock and pop anthems. The downstairs clientele were young, brash office workers and laddish labourers. The characters onstage upstairs were two married senior citizens, both nearing the end of their lives. This striking contrast set the scene for this piece of new writing penned and performed by David Pattison and his real-life wife Polly.
Without wanting to give too much away, the story revolves around an older couple coming to grips with death. The Husband is dying from an undisclosed disease and the pair have arranged for him to be euthanised by a ‘visitor from Zurich’ later in the day. The Wife cannot live without her husband. The Husband cannot die alone. It is a scary and sombre arrangement. The main strength of the script of Can You Hear Seagulls? is that for the most part it manages to steer clear of clichés and stereotypes. This is not easy to do in a play whose main preoccupation is the discussion of death and love.
Both performers, David and Polly Pattison, walked onstage visibly a little nervous, but walked offstage with grace and humility. The real-life couple were very charismatic and down to earth, just like the characters they portrayed. Hats off for their honest and heartfelt performances. An advantage of this play being put on in an intimate venue such as this is that you are so close to the action that you literally feel as if you are sitting in this couple’s living room and sipping tea with them – which makes it all the more poignant.
Bearing in mind that this production is destined for the Edinburgh Fringe, the set was suitably bare and sparse: a small raised platform with a room divider in the corner that served for the backstage area. The lighting design was also simple and effective. I was a little disappointed however with the lack of sound effects. The phone and door bell both rang at several moments in the play but only the characters could hear them. When the phone was answered by the wife and conversation took place, she disappeared offstage and was back on stage after a second of complete silence. What happened to real time? Although this was a little off-putting, I guess the advantage is that the play paces along nicely. At fifty-five minutes long it is dense, funny, moving and simple, and leaves a lot to your imagination. Just like good theatre should do.
Could I hear seagulls? No, my suspension of disbelief didn’t stretch that far on this occasion, but I did get the sense that this new play had potential. This production still has room to improve, but is likely to get better and better as its Ed Fringe run goes on. I would definitely watch it again.
Author: David Pattison