This Finborough set for Salt-Water Moon (like many of theirs) is a beautiful sight to walk into. The floor is strewn with wood chips, there is a simple metal bench and table, and the wall is covered in stars. It’s elegant, simple and beautiful, immediately setting a warm and welcoming tone: top work by designer Mim Houghton.
It is 1926. Jacob (Joseph Potter) vanished a year ago to seek work in Toronto. He abandoned his young sweetheart Mary (Bryony Miller) but has now returned intent on rekindling their relationship, in the full knowledge that she is engaged to another.
Jacob strides onto the stage, a song on his lips and bringing an arrogant confidence with him, to claim what he considers to be his due. Mary will be his again and he will make it happen through force of will. However, as the play progresses, we see the underside of his bluster, the loss and the loneliness which he inflicted, knowingly, on both of them. Potter brings a strong physicality to the role, zipping around the stage, jumping on the bench; investing Jacob’s movement with all his emotions and channelling his energy into impressions of Tom Mix, an early Westerns star.
Miller’s Mary appears standoffish, stoic and most of all hurt. She is trapped, stuck with what is expected of a young woman in a small community in the mid-1920s. Her role has been decided for her in many ways. Her engagement gives her some safety and stability, and possibly provides the chance to help her mother and sister. Initially she has no intent to allow Jacob back into her life or to take him back as her lover. We see that her feelings for him have not changed but she has pushed them down inside and she, initially, doesn’t want them to come back. He wronged her, she has moved on with her life. But as they spend a short amount of time together bickering and reminiscing, Miller does a fabulous job of showing how Mary allows these feelings to resurface and the unspoken battle she has inside to decide if this is what she even wants.
Both performances are excellent, although the broad Newfoundland accents jump all over the place and change from line to line, with a definite Irish accent coming through more than once. Potter and Miller bring depth to their characters and let us see the feelings they have for each other, even as they seem a complete contrast.
David French’s script uses Jacob’s family history to explore the devastating impact on Newfoundland after the Newfoundland Regiment was all but wiped out at the Battle of the Somme during World War 1. The programme gives a lot of extra information about this and Salt-Water Moon feels like it is a piece that is important to its setting in Newfoundland, but that also perhaps relies on a having a little more knowledge of the area and the events than the play itself provides. The relationship between Mary and Jacob is convincing, the setting just slightly less so.
The performance feels slightly too fast: originally programmed as 90 minutes, it runs to 75. Early on the pace is set and it is off. One line is barely finished before another arrives, and these lines are not zingers designed for a fast flow. It doesn’t fit with the play and adding back a little running time – even stretching the first ten minutes a little longer – would be most welcome. Still, two strong performances on a beautiful, elegant set feels like a good start to the year for The Finborough.
Author: David French
Director: Peter Kavanagh
Designer: Mim Houghton
Producer: Cumulus Productions London in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.
Salt-water Moon plays at Finborough Theatre until 28 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.