Wreckage, produced by Harlow Playhouse, kick-starts Turbine Theatre’s 2023 season after an award-winning run at Edinburgh Fringe 2022. To enter the auditorium, you must brush aside some hanging foliage. Beyond, the set is simple; a large almost blank stage, all blues and greens, a projection at the back showing an underwater car wreck and foliage all around. It is seaweed, and we are under the sea.
This is how Noel (Michael Walters) dies – early one morning while running a short errand for fiancé Sam (Tom Ratcliffe) who forgot to drop off a set of keys. A simple moment of forgetfulness by one, and a simple moment of kindness by another. Noel’s car crashes into water and he dies under the sea. Sam now needs to navigate his life without Noel but he is beset by guilt and by grief. This leads him to recreate a version of Noel in his head, an inner ghost with whom he relives arguments and moments of tenderness.
The play flashes back with help from Rachel Sampley’s effective lighting, to show how Sam and Noel first came together, certain moments in their courtship, their first kiss (the fireworks are initially corny but a later reference to it is particularly sweet), and the marriage proposal. Both actors are good and there are many moments where they show a strong and believable relationship, but Sam’s grief causes him to focus more on the bitter arguments (about infidelity) and the disagreements (about money and home) than on the love the two had for each other.
Later, in particularly strong design work from Rikki Beadle-Blair, who also directs, the foliage changes from underwater seaweed to the plants and vines of the garden that Noel loved so much. These are destroyed by Sam as he imagines how Noel might react, in an uncomfortable scene with a committed performance from Walters.
As Sam slowly moves on, he meets Christian (also Michael Walters) and builds a new life. A clearer delineation between Noel and Christian would have been useful here, as some scene changes are at pace and there is a bit of whiplash as Walters switches characters. As Sam’s life goes on, his grief for Noel remains, even as he worries that his memories are fading. Sam does on to have a long and seemingly fulfilled life; husband, daughter, grandkids and a ripe old age. Yet all along he is connected with Noel and the ending seems to suggest they’ll be reunited shortly when Sam passes. What does that say of his relationship and long life with Christian? Did Christian spend his life with Sam and the ghost of Noel? This could have used more exploration.
The final scene is beautiful and moving, showcasing the talents on stage and the creative talents behind. We might move on from grief in some ways, but in others, it stays with us until our dying days.
Writer: Tom Ratcliffe
Director & Designer: Rikki Beadle-Blair
Lighting Designer: Rachel Sampley
Produced by: Harlow Playhouse
Wreckage plays at Turbine Theatre until 22 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.