Surrounded by family and friends who have fled their speck-on-the-map hometown in the hope of finding something more, Adam (Jon Tozzi) is forced to come to terms with the fact that the future isn’t going to wait for him silently. Their return, marked by the death of Adam and Jess’ (Emily Céline Thomson) mother, makes his life explode when repressed truths and unsettling secrets flood to surface.
As his little town is being flooded by torrential rain and its bridge falls down, Adam is left alone with the notion that everyone has moved on but him. Jess is expecting a baby with his best friend Michael (Nathan Coenen); his less than friend Ben (Tom Hartwell) has moved to London, as has Adam’s almost-fiancée Laura (Molly McGeachin). In his eyes, he is the one who stayed back and cared for his sick mother. In reality he is a broken man, haunted by demons who chase him around with bottles in hand and who isn’t able to support himself without his sister’s help.
Playwright Hartwell accompanies deeper themes with wit and hilarity as the characters in Flood navigate life and death with spots of humour. His close juxtaposition of funny one-liners with heartfelt, sorrow-filled moments make the roles well-rounded and multi-faceted. For instance, Adam’s exchanges about his mother’s death with Michael are interspersed with banter about Michael’s mother driving a Skoda Octavia. It becomes returning gag in the show, as does Ben’s (highly hyperbolic) accounts of how much his life has changed since he moved to London, lit up with Adam’s tease of this new version of a man he’s known for his whole life.
When Hartwell’s light and dynamic style sobers up, it does so in a heartbeat, and the audience is treated to heart-clenching themes that span from hereditary alcoholism to violence and abuse, from family bonds to betrayal and neglect.
“We left. That’s what people do, eventually. That’s what everyone does.”
Jess tells Adam in a quite heated discussion layered with guilt and hope about the new generations who are “never settled, always searching”.
This leitmotif built on progress and improvement runs throughout Flood and sees the characters almost running in circles trying to get out of the life they know. Ben tries to convince his friends (but mostly himself) that London is the place to be; Jess and Michael find solace in reconstructing their existences from their parents’ mistakes; Adam stands still watching them pivot around him. He is stuck in the past, cuffed by an alcohol problem he can’t kick, as well as the unwieldy guilt of hitting Laura during a bender.
Alcoholism is treated with care and sensitivity, but Hartwell doesn’t spare the audience of its effects. A negligent mother who almost estranged her daughter and a son who’s bound by her same illness are representative of how differently you can cope with the same obstacle. Adam finds old bottles in his mum’s basement and his world literally slows down, represented on stage by Georgie Staight’s direction. “I’m drowning and I don’t know where I’m supposed to swim to”. Adam says after breaking into the church to try to make sense of what is happening to him.
Ultimately, Flood is the redemptive story of a man who has lost sight of his lighthouse and is now missing at sea. The water metaphor stays strong for the whole play, both in Oscar Selfridge’s visual depiction of half-sunk furniture and rubber puddles, or with droplets and rain sounds through the speaker at the hand of Benjamin Winter. Albeit being strained at times, Staight’s scene changes are definitely noteworthy, as is her visual treatment of Adam’s problem. The directorial choice of slowing time down in an essential scene for Adam’s progress is efficient and powerful, but not innovative.
The cast is charismatic and compelling, even though at times it feels like their work is kept at bay. Full of brilliant comedic timing and depth, each makes their layered story come alive with spark and heart. Tozzi’s approach to his relationship between alcohol and friends is honest and truly heartbreaking at times. As a man who hasn’t been able to create anything actually meaningful in his life, he manages to take a leap and save himself, not simply trying to get over his mistakes but incorporating them into who he is.
As Jess, Thomson’s take on the role is particularly striking. a strong and independent woman whose goal is to find something more than what she’s known, she remains solid in her ideas throughout the piece but allows her mind to be changed. When it comes to her partner, she is loving but retains her independence and strength of character. Coenen’s lovable Michael complements the siblings perfectly; the combination of Hartwell’s writing and Coenen’s performance let the audience clearly see why Adam and Michael are lifetime friends.
Flood’s mix of a compelling story with relevant themes and an entertaining style that never sinks into clichés give the play a lot of potential. Its thought-provoking reflections on illness and the inevitability of life are refreshing. Hartwell’s incorporation of these themes into the core story distinguishes and elevates this play.
Flood plays at Tristan Bates Theatre until 5 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.
Follow the link to an interview with theatre company Paper Creatures and their founders Jon Tozzi and Nathan Coenen.