BWW Review: UNDER THE RADAR, Bread & Roses Theatre
In August 2017, a journalist named Kim Wall went to interview inventor Peter Madsen on his private submarine. She never came back. Most people seemed baffled as to why someone, especially a woman, would risk entering such an environment with a perfect stranger. If it had been another man, would we have reacted in the same way? These are just some of the many questions about gender stereotypes that are explored and challenged in this debut play.
Writer Jonathon Crewe uses the horrific news story as a loose stimulus, but Under the Radar is not so much a play about murder as it is about bias, misogyny and the idea of toxic masculinity. It's certainly a timely and relevant work in the wake of the #MeToo campaign, and although unsettling, it's laced with a strong undercurrent of black humour.
Eleanor Hill plays Lee, a reporter desperate to write an article that will establish her as a serious and credible journalist. She sees Captain Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe) and his maiden voyage on a self-built submarine as her opportunity. Telling her he didn't think the journalist would be a woman is the first indication that these two aren't going to get along. Christensen quickly assures her he was joking, a mechanism he returns to time and time again to justify himself.
When Christensen informs Lee the journey will be longer than she had planned for, alarm bells start ringing, but quickly fade as she agrees. The door is sealed shut and so, it seems, is her future.
Hill bursts through the audience with a power stride and looks every bit the aspiring go-getter. Her costume, designed by Wan Yuan Teo, gives us a strong indication about who this woman is. Her first line involves dropping the 'F' bomb, so we're left without a doubt that she is a strong and assertive woman. The character is established economically, but cleverly the audience are forced into judging her from the off, a theme which resonates throughout.
Hill delivers a first-rate performance. The way she allows her body language to alter as she grows more intoxicated after Christensen encourages her to continue drinking is remarkably detailed. It feels incredibly authentic and as though it's all happening in real time, which adds to the intensity of the situation. There was an audible sense of unease in the audience with many shifting in their seats as things grew more and more uncomfortable.
Anscombie appears to veer towards caricature in his opening scenes. This actually makes his dark turning points even more disturbing. The more menacing aspects of the character are where the actor really delivers the goods. When sneaking up on an oblivious Lee while she's showering, a brief facial flicker alone oozes utter creepiness. The actor is able to balance light and shade. His comic timing is effective, but he uses his skills to flick like a switch, and we never know quite what he's going to say or do.
After a horrifyingly violent scene, which again generated audible repulsion from the audience, we expect the curtain to come down. Instead, everything is turned on its head, and all of the issues Crewe is confronting are brought to the surface. This is done in an unpredictable and surprisingly humorous way. After such a build-up, Crewe's talents as a director and writer really shine, with the actors also firing on all cylinders.
The play is very conversational, and at times it does feel like we are being presented with too much information and too many points. Much of the dialogue is sharp and witty, but some is stilted and could be filtered down a little. This occasionally reduces the pace, but overall our engagement is sustained.
The claustrophobic confinement of the submarine is only enhanced by the intimate studio space. We feel like voyeurs, struggling to take our eyes off the action whilst feeling we should be looking away.
This is an intense and disquieting play that cleverly takes us in a series of unexpected directions. Following the performance, audience members were vocal about not knowing how they felt. This reviewer was also left trying to process exactly what they'd seen. Theatre that provokes our thought, prompts debate and starts a conversation, even if it's not a pleasant one, must be seen as a good thing. Crewe will no doubt be on our radar from now on.
Photo credit: Joe Gibbons