Six actors take turns playing a beachcomber while the rest watch, amused and concerned. They all wear Hawaiian-style beach shirts. There are rubber ducks, choreographed dances and few words.
The beachcomber’s life is alternately portrayed as wonderfully fulfilled and bitterly lonely. When he’s wrapped up in his discoveries the movement among cast members is collaborative and accompanied by lively music. When he’s not, the music disappears and he stands gazing out at us, confused and distant. As it turns out, what he’s been hoping to find out on the shore all this time is love.
However, far from being a clichéd piece, the whole thing was experimentally and prettily directed. Not only was the venue’s temperature somewhat reminiscent of a tropical beach, but each new beach location was also vividly shown through clever use of space and props. The actors were perfectly in sync with one another and looked thoroughly immersed throughout.
What also seems professional about the production is that the beachcomber’s loneliness is never spelled out for us. It just comes across in subtly devised moments, for example when he starts choking briefly and realises that there’s no one around to help him, and also when, in the thralls of a new discovery, the beachcomber rejoices to Elvis Presley’s song, Hound Dog, only for the track to change to Love me Tender, making him stop quite sadly and quietly before the music ceases altogether. The songs were a welcome delight throughout the performance, and credit must go to Rosa Brook for choosing and even creating some of them herself.
Having said this, Plastic Beach offers precious little for viewers to laugh about, cry about, or even think about. Most of the action involves objects being found, inspected, placed, replaced and passed back and forth between the actors. However nicely this is done, it does get old after a while.
This is theatre at its slowest, most physical and least conventional, and it is not for those who will be left waiting impatiently in their seats for some kind of discernible plot to begin.