Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea is the first English translation of Emanuele Aldrovandi’s Scusate Se Non Siamo Morti in Mare. Sometime in the future, Europe has fallen. The Burly One (Felix Garcia Guyer) is a people smuggler moving refugees out of Europe to an unknown destination. As we begin, three unnamed, archetypal, refugees – The Stocky One (Marco Young), The Tall One (Will Bishop) and The Beautiful One (Yasmine Haller) – pay The Burly One to be loaded into the container that will be their home through the sea voyage. Along with the seeds of conflict, we see hints as to the background of each character – or perhaps this is the background they wish us to see.
As the refugees move into the container, the lights come down and The Burly One steps forward. He now appears to be an outside narrator who gives a voiceover about shipping containers, their history and their dimensions, along with other such details. He has got a clear, strong interest in this and is excited to be talking about shipping containers. This is the first hint that we may not be seeing a straightforward piece. After his slightly surreal and absurd voiceover, he sits in the front row but from time to time pops up – next to tell us a recipe! It is very funny for the audience, but then when he returns to the containers, the refugees are terrified of him. It’s a fascinating contrast; impactful direction from Daniel Emery.
The set is an empty black space with only bags as props. The narration about containers cannot help but draw attention to the fact that the set doesn’t match the dimensions we have just heard about. The stage is too large; there is too much space to move around in, which slightly lessens the intended claustrophobia. Perhaps even a chalk outline of a container to help show the spatial limits would have been helpful.
The absurd voiceover elements are really striking. Each narration, and the changing staging of them as the show goes on, is excellent. The script and performance come together to ratchet up the tension. Guyer steals the show more than once as his delivery grows more intense. At one point he informs the audience almost threateningly that “the instruments used to measure time are called clocks”. His excitement regarding everything he speaks about is palpable and as he appears increasingly deranged our amusement moves to nervous laughter. I have to admit, there was an extra level of tension and intensity in his narration from a seat in the front row less than a metre away.
The rest of the cast are equally as good: multi-talented Young is also the translator of this piece from the original Italian; Haller and Bishop do well with shifting between their characters, from conflict, to alliance, back to conflict, and in the sharing of their motives and backstories – even as these stray between truth and fiction.
Aldrovandi’s script is ambitious, darkly funny and absurd. For a 65-minute show, there is a lot packed in. After the shipwreck, the conflict between the characters ratchets up effectively. While some of the story beats may be expected (particularly in light of the content warnings), the ending itself builds on and expands the absurdity of the voiceover to leave us with an extremely memorable night.
Written by: Emanuele Aldrovandi
Directed by: Daniel Emery
Translated by: Marco Young
Sorry We Didn’t Die at Sea plays at Seven Dials Playhouse until 16 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.