Putting on Sea Wall at the Fringe is a bold move. Simon Stephens’ devastating monologue was written for and first performed in Edinburgh by Andrew Scott and, whilst there’s nothing wrong with performing works written for specific actors, Sea Wall seems like it should be an exception. Jonathan Oldfield fully embraces the role of Alex, a distraught father who has lost everything but, although this revival brings the magic of Stephens’ text to a new audience, it doesn’t really escape from the shadow of the original.

Fans of the original won’t find anything new here and those who haven’t seen it before ought to watch the film for a better rendition of the text.

The star of the show is undeniably the script itself: Alex talks completely naturally in digressions and false starts, incomplete anecdotes and occasional bursts of urgent energy. This is complemented by moments of poetic beauty, the image of God being located “in the space between two numbers” being one arresting example.

Of course, any great text needs a great performer to carry it off and Oldfield does admirably as he explains to us, naturally and with great fragility, the “hole running through [his] stomach”. You’d be hard pushed to find a simpler show at the festival: no set, no props, hardly any lighting changes. Just Oldfield, Stephens’ words and a sense of deep, unrelenting loss. Oldfield is wonderful, taking us through Alex’s pain with dignity and, often, great humour. However, he doesn’t reveal anything new about Alex and his performance is crafted very much in Scott’s image and style.

Therefore, in a world where a recently filmed official version of Scott’s definitive performance is available on the Internet for less than the price of a ticket, this production becomes hard to recommend. Fans of the original won’t find anything new here and those who haven’t seen it before ought to watch the film for a better rendition of the text. Punters who have even heard of the play doubtless won’t be disappointed: Kernel Theatre’s production remains a powerful one and Oldfield is a compelling if not original presence, but it’s the majesty of the text that reigns supreme.

Reviews by Sam Forbes

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

‘You know what the cruellest thing I ever did to anybody was? I’ll tell you.’ Alex wants to tell you a story. A story about God, about photography and Daniel Craig. A story about Lucy.

Kernel Theatre Collective bring you Sea Wall, a profound, funny and moving one man monologue about life, love, loss and the sea. In the space of just 30 minutes an elemental human connection is forged between Alex and his audience, this link is re-envisaged in our new production; Jonothon Oldfield’s performance breathes life into a new Alex entirely. Direct, deep and beautiful Sea Wall offers a frank and honest portrayal of a life.

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