BWW Review: EDEN, Hampstead Theatre
As a child, I used to play on the sand dunes at the top of the road on which I grew up. Our local railway station was "Seaforth Sands", a day trip destination from Victorian times until the late 60s. It looks like this (left) now.
So sand dunes have been under attack for a while and not just from avaricious golf course developers wearing red baseball hats - but more of that later.
Bob isn't happy - not happy at all. Chase Enterprises (whose CEO wears the red hat) has somehow got the planning permission to develop a golf course on the very dunes that his daughter, geomorphologist, Jane, wrote about in her impact report, a warning subsequently ignored by Eden's local council.
Chase is a persuasive man though - aren't they always - and he enlists Sophie, a locally raised go-getting marketing whizz to get the community onboard - especially Bob. But Sophie's return to Eden proves more complicated than even she imagined.
There's much to admire in Hannah Patterson's play that pits town against country, development against conservation, corruption against integrity, love against careers, the big guy against the little guy. But the sheer familiarity of those tropes is the weakest element of the play - we see it all coming.
It's beautifully done though, with some particularly outstanding work from Sean Jackson and Mariah Gale, who look uncannily like a father and daughter and play off each other as an awkward squad of two perfectly. Michael Simkins does what he can with Chase, but he's inevitably more caricature than character.
Yolanda Kettle has a tough time with homecoming executive Sophie - she's bright, but not bright enough to see that she's being played; she's ambitious, but still provincial in her outlook; and she's sentimental, but established a career in property development, a field that chews up and spits out sentimental types with a ferocious lack of regard.
Laurietta Essien demonstrates the brisk efficiency one expects of a council leader, but the part is underwritten, a glimpse of her hinterland present when she asks Sophie if she knows how hard it has been for an outsider to reach her position. Now that would have made a storyline! Adrian Richards delivers four cameo roles largely (and very effectively) for comic relief.
A word too for Jasmine Swan's work with director Matthew Xia. It's no easy gig to evoke the dunes' salt-tinged tang in the wind and gritty ubiquity of sand in a black box downstairs in Swiss Cottage, but they do pull it off on a tiny traverse stage - super work!
Ultimately, there isn't quite enough narrative energy to sustain the play for its two hours running time, the characters pretty much on tramlines towards their destinations from the first time we meet them until last. Someone - anyone - needed to do something unexpected to inject a little grit into the oyster if the play were to reach its considerable potential.
Oh and my view of that development in the photo? Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask, because destructive as it was of the environment in which I grew up and nostalgic as I am for the views of the ships moored on the Bar that I could see from my parents' bedroom window (like my parents, that's gone forever), I support the Freeport. It brought money, jobs and, most important, hope to a city hollowed out by a century of economic decline. It didn't all work out for the best - it seldom does.
And there's mile after mile of sand dunes all the way up the Lancashire coast if that's your thing.