The Beach House - Park Theatre
Sisterhood, motherhood and the fragility of female relationships
Jo Harper’s new play examines the intricacies and limits of female relationships, through gaslighting sisters that rarely speak and an uncommunicative couple on the precipice of a new era in their lives. Though an interesting and deserving topic, the material never quite lands as intended.
Kate and Liv are buying their dream home, a fixer-upper on the coast, imagining how their soon to be born baby girl will be crawling around the space and the future trips they’ll take down to the beach via the stairs in the garden. Liv’s songwriting career seemingly on hold as Kate is determined to make a rapid return to work after the birth. Kate’s sister Jenny drops in and out unannounced having been performing abroad, effortlessly disrupting the already fragile home dynamic. Relationships are tested as faithfulness wains, descending into manipulative bullying by the close of the piece.
In this production, much of Harper’s plot fails to land because the script struggles to establish these characters as three-dimensional people. For an audience, it is particularly difficult to understand intention and motivation when pivotal characterisation happens offstage or not at all - the initial cheating kiss between Liv and Jenny being a prime example of this. There is minimal dialogue in the preceding scene, they leave the stage to go swimming, returning with a seemingly injured Jenny (never explained) and kiss. The lack of context leaves us playing catch up and distracted as the plot attempts to drive forwards regardless.
The cast do their best with the content provided, Gemma Lawrence’s performance as Liv particularly strong as she is caught between the two sisters, wrapped up in her guilt but equally struggling to rekindle her own sense of self through her songwriting. Single-minded Kate is cold and manipulative of the women around her, headstrong in her belief that she knows best which Kathryn Bond delivers with cool ease. Gemma Barnett’s Jenny floats into the space unsettled with her choices, seeking comfort and reassurance that is not forthcoming from her sister. The ensemble work nicely as a unit but are hampered by lurching dialogue, never fully able to settle into the rhythm of a scene.
The Beach House strikes at serious themes but like the home that Kate and Liv move into it needs serious rework before it can deliver on its potential. Solid character foundations must be established for this piece to work. Hope to see a new iteration of it in the future.
Running till 11 March - Tickets
Photography - David Monteith-Hodge