Tank

Breach Theatre blew everyone away with The Beanfield last year, and their new show, Tank, is no disappointment, retaining their distinctive brand of semi-devised/semi-verbatim theatre with a clear political edge. Tank is based on transcripts from a NASA-funded set of experiments designed to teach dolphins English and the imagined relationship between researcher, Margaret (Victoria Watson), and a dolphin named Peter (Joe Boylan). It’s sure to be one of the most bizarre starting points for anything you see at the Fringe.

The beautiful thing is that all of these layers and issues exist simultaneously, smashing together past and present, fact and fiction

Not content to just recount the story, the company also make sure to deconstruct how narrative and history are moulded by explicitly stating what is verbatim and what they’ve had to make up for dramatic purposes. Two additional actors, Ellice Stevens and Craig Hamilton, debate the validity of Margaret and Peter’s relationship and if this experiment is even worth continuing, whilst they perform what can only be described as a dolphin/human love dance (trust me, it works!) allowing us to view the performance from multiple perspectives. In yet another stroke of genius, the directors include video projection at the back wall to provide us with Peter’s voiceless perspective, Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s video deserves particular praise for the fact that the majority of it takes place underwater, and I shudder to think how complicated that must have been. The company also uses this to interrogate how language can be used as a tool for violence, as Margaret injects Peter with LSD, telling him, “Don’t even think in your own language. English, all the time!” The beautiful thing is that all of these layers and issues exist simultaneously, smashing together past and present, fact and fiction.

It’s an incredibly strong production that solidifies Breach’s reputation as one of British theatre’s rising stars. There are only a few minor issues with audibility in the tiny Pleasance Jack Dome, as well as the inevitable death of Peter feeling rather rushed when the company had been emphasizing the slow torture he was suffering. Nevertheless it remains a strikingly original and bracing production that is definitely going to mature and develop as the run continues.

Reviews by Liam Rees

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The Blurb

In 1965, a researcher lived with a dolphin for ten weeks to try and teach him to speak English – part of a NASA-funded research project into human-animal communication. Condemned by the wider scientific community as an elaborate circus trick, the experiment remains a controversial episode in the space race between the two Cold War superpowers. Inspired by the Dolphin House experiments, Breach's follow-up to the Total Theatre Award-winning The Beanfield, 'Boldly political' **** (Guardian), interrogates the violence of language, the power of culture, and what happens when you inject a cetacean with LSD.

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