The current offering at The Space’s Foreword Festival, which champions new and upcoming playwrights, is Sink, by Tobias Graham. Sink is staged in a bathroom at a drug-fuelled house party in a flat. The friends come and go, taking drugs, hooking up, arguing, being sick and gossiping about the other revellers.
The artwork for Sink is not a sink... It's a toilet. The play itself was equally baffling!
The six friends are well played by the cast, but several parts were left underdeveloped by the writer. The actors tried hard to fill in the blanks but ultimately not all the characters felt like fully rounded individuals with lives outside of the bathroom.
There is no lead character as such, but Crispin makes the most impact. Dominic Holme was a joy to watch, particularly when his drugs kick in and he goes on a trip to confront his own past. His various camp costumes all made an impact and he was believable in his love for his best friend Benny. Of all the characters it was Benny who I had most trouble with. He was wonderfully portrayed by Charlie Wright, with lots of self-doubt and confusions, and a genuine platonic (or is it?) love for his best friend, but a lot of the decisions made by Benny just did not make sense to me. Ultimately, it is Benny who we are meant to have the most feelings for, but we still did not understand the choices Benny took during the show. I truly wanted to like him as he was nice to everyone, charming and funny but I was given no reason as to why he was having his crisis later on, or why I should even care. His friendship with the confident hardman of the group, Caleb, seemed so at odds with any of Benny’s beliefs that I sat there for ages waiting for an explanation which sadly never came.
Caleb was energetically played by Alexander Hackett. Full of confidence and swagger, he oozed danger and bravado wherever he went, but quite why Caleb attends these parties remained a mystery throughout, as he seemed to have no genuine respect for any of the other characters. He was somehow a both a leader and a misfit at the same time.
Lissie, we discover, is the owner of the flat. Gloria Akinfe tried to deliver a strong performance and there was the glimmer of someone, fierce and torn about which way her loyalties lie, so it is a shame that the character never really got to display any emotion. Lissie is dealing with betrayal, death and a very uncertain future, so she should have been given scenes that deal with all that but she seemed to be merely a pawn used by the male actors, as opposed to a willful participant with her own feelings and desires. She was given one scene which showed promise of going somewhere but this entire plot was later discarded by the writer with no resolution, or if there was a resolution then it got lost in the context of a more developed relationship happening elsewhere.
Amy, played by the delightful Alice Lucy, made a fantastic first impression, taking cute Instagram selfies on the toilet, but she sadly got lost a short while later in the middle of a scene and took a long time to fully recover from the stumble. By the end of the play she was once again stealing all scenes as she literally ate popcorn and watched her bickering friends. I would love to see her story arc again with Alice on top form, as there was definitely an intriguing dark side to her character which didn’t quite shine through during this particular performance.
The final character in this ensemble is Rocky. Billy Ashworth played Rocky exceptionally well but, like Benny, the changes in his character were hard to follow. The Rocky in the final scene is miles apart from the Rocky in the first scene and all character growth appears to have taken place offstage or is merely mentioned by the rest of the cast. It would have been great to see more of him – to understand his journey rather than seeing the beginning and end product.
The characters come and go into the bathroom from all angles and they change their various fancy dress costumes offstage so you are never quite sure what trope is going to walk through the door next. Kelli Baleta deserves a special mention for her costume design as they were all wonderful!
The artwork for Sink is not a sink... It's a toilet. The play itself was equally baffling! The scenes overlapped too often, sometimes with two or more scenes happening at once. There is no hint as to why any of this was the case and so it was not until approximately halfway through the play that I understood the concept of the show, and why the characters were hitting on and arguing with each other's best friends and partners. This led me to missing various plot points and I spent more time trying to work out who all the characters were meant to be to each other, rather than enjoying the storyline(s). I ultimately feel like I missed a lot of early vital information and would need to watch the show a second time to be able to understand the main storyline properly.
The play was directed by Patrick Bone, who was assistant to the directors on The Inheritance (my absolute favourite play in recent years) and I am slightly disappointed that he wasn’t able to clarify some of the play’s peculiarities with time and space to a confused audience. Although, the scenes with Crispin’s trip were wonderfully done. One rather frustrating concept was that the door to the stage was wedged open – and a curtain was hung it’s place. The curtain then acted as a door to the bathroom. It didn’t help that several cast members’ then tripped over the curtain. Why they did not simply use the door as a door was perplexing!
The sound design by Keri Chesser was great with the party down the hall and chatter being constant and a nice backdrop to the action happening on stage. The lighting by Vanessa Morton was particularly good during the dramatic scene changes when the whole bathroom was drenched in a blood red light. The set was a simple bathroom consisting of a sink, a toilet, an overflowing bin and some drawers. It worked but it forced all the action to happen in virtually one spot. There was no reason they had to make it real-size while the rest of the direction was dreamlike and Brechtian. A lot of the stage went unused.
It was a very good effort by the entire team and there was definitely some good dialogue by Tobias Graham, but he needs to work on developing all the characters and story-arcs, as well as ensuring that the audience are taken into account – we want to be taken on a journey rather than feeling like we are one step behind everyone else in the show. To want to see a show a second time, like I did with The Inheritance, is a wonderful endorsement for a play but to NEED to see a show a second time, just so it can be truly understood, shows there is sadly room for improvement.