BWW Review: THE GEMINUS, Tristan Bates Theatre
Ross Dinwiddy adapts Joseph Conrad's 1909 novella The Secret Sharer for the stage and takes it to London after acclaimed runs in Brighton. The original text sees the unnamed Captain of a ship (renamed George Hotson in the play and played by John Black) take the decision to conceal Leggatt (Gareth Wildig), a man accused of the murder of a crew member on another ship.
The playwright and director isolates the unusual link shared by the men and transforms the initial seafaring adventure into an intense homoerotic tale with a mystic vibe to it. Hotson and Leggatt share more than an uncanny resemblance, they're both strangers and outcasts in their own lives. With the Captain's appointment having happened only a couple of weeks prior and the First Mate's arrest, they establish a quick and visceral connection that becomes attraction.
The script, however, feels weighty. It fails to properly raise the stakes of the dangers that the Captain's decision to hide Leggatt implies and ultimately to get the audience involved in the illicitness of the relationship. Black is dignified in his uniform but aptly awkward in his role as head of the vessel. The lack of respect from the crew and improper attitude in his regards naturally have him veering towards the dark stranger, who at times seems to be coming from his own imagination.
Wildig is a stable presence on stage, he's charismatic and charming as he recounts the events that led him to appear in front of the captain wet and nearly naked. Dinwiddy's play sounds and looks like a piece of sophisticated fanfiction, and that's the beauty of it. The writing has its ups and downs but it's mainly the direction that falls somewhat flat in terms of pacing in the long run.
The only tension that's steadily being built is between the two men, leading to steamy kisses and eagerly anticipated intimate scenes that animate an otherwise rather still show. The constant sound of waves pervades it, making it naturalistic but also taking the focus away from the climatic energy that intensifies gradually between them.
The Geminus is an alluring project that only needs to be marginally more gripping to become the steady drama it vows to be.