Club Tropicana

Theatre Review: Wreck

25 September 17 words: Adrian Reynolds

Ambitious and effective drama undermined by off-stage concerns

Photographer: Robert Day

This is the second Fifth Word show I’ve seen, and the second to feature a train. In Jane Upton’s powerful All The Little Lights it clattered feet away from where some teenage girls tangled their lives together. In Wreck, by Toby Campion, we’re on the train – and then we’re off it, to places that it’s best I don’t spoil in this review.

There’s a whole lot I like about Wreck, but there’s a fundamental problem which I know won’t resonate with everyone but will be of concern to many. On the plus side, this is an ambitious and bold piece. The story is expertly constructed, pieces presented in sequence so you can be sure to follow what’s going on.

Personally, I prefer the audience to have to do a bit more work as I find the experience immersive, which is the choice Jane Upton took in her script. And I can see too, with the number of moving parts involved in Wreck, why Toby Campion made the choices he did – there are different locations, different characters, different times to mark out. That emphasis on elegant construction becomes problematic though, because as well put together as the play is, it has very little in the way of subtext, which is where the heart of drama beats most powerfully.

Again though, let’s hear it for ambition. One actor – Luke Grant in a strong performance as Tarik – delivers the story with the support of recorded voices, and conjures different settings with simple but effective use of props, lighting, and sound. It’s a masterclass in staging, and is to be applauded for that.

And the downside. I had a sneaking feeling where the story was going early on, and was pretty much on the nail with my predictions. Tarik becomes tangled in a story that is all to do with his ethnicity, and while that story is engaging, moving, and tragically plausible, there’s something missing. As adept a writer as Toby Campion is, I’d have been much happier if this play had been developed with an Asian writer than one who, like its producers, is white. Wreck is a highly capable piece of work, make no mistake: I can only wonder how much added emotional power and complexity it could have developed by a team drawing on personal experience, rather than the understandable desire to respond to injustices they know from an inescapable distance.

Wreck is at Nottingham Playhouse until 30th September 2017.

Nottingham Playhouse website