BWW Review: TINY DYNAMITE, Old Red Lion Theatre
On their annual holiday together at the seaside, Luce (Eva-Jane Willis) and Anthony (Niall Bishop) meet Madeleine (Tanya Fear). As their friendship develops and the two already best friends, jarred from past events, form a strong bond with the stranger, they'll have to come to terms with past trauma, mental illness, and acceptance.
Abi Morgan's Tiny Dynamite is revived for the first time in over 15 years after its run at the Lyric Studio in 2003 in a slow-paced yet heart-wrenching new production. As directed by David Loumgair, it presents a crucial difference in the narrative: the character of Lucien becomes a woman. By gender-swapping the role, Loumgair changes the dynamic among the characters, embedding another source of tension between Anthony and Luce.
Loumgair's direction is sharp and detailed in the hazy and wooden atmosphere created by Anna Reid, Zoe Spurr, and Dan Jeffries (Set, Lighting, and Sound Designers, respectively). The quite explosive and raucous start given by loud music and heavy lighting play is a glimpse into the rest of the scene changes, which are centred on movement and music while the actors rearrange the deck to create different settings.
The director has his performers always present along the stage, sitting at the edge with their feet in the water. Incandescent decorative lightbulbs and a shallow moat around the platform make electricity and water a constant theme of the production: when he was a child, Anthony was in fact struck by lightning during a storm, which left him alive by miracle.
Willis, Bishop, and Fear each deliver subtle performances on their own, but Willis and Bishop's characters lack the kind of chemistry that comes with being lifelong friends. This might be a voluntary choice of the creative team, and having them grapple with each other might indeed be an element to indirectly show the struggle generated by Luce's guilt.
Fear portrays Madeleine in a delicate yet resolute way, pulling Luce and Anthony together even when she's the strain between them. As cracks are ultimately uncovered, it's Madeline who inadvertently and low-key becomes the central focus of the show.
The piece tries to tackle mental illness by not talking about it directly nor making it the centre of it; however, having Luce almost looking down on Anthony and treating him like a child makes it become quite short-sighted on the matter. The audience can't help but be on her side as she strives to give him a better life, which he keeps refusing, creating a quite disturbing imbalance at times.
Her self-loathing and guilt for what's happened in their past eats her alive, almost forcing her to be kind to him and transforming her pity in love. It's only with accepting their shared pain that she is going to be able to move on and have a deeper understanding of the impact that smallest gestures can have in life.
Photo credit: Richard Davenport