What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath is a semi-absurdist exploration into male grief, observing how it plays out in our minds and affects those close to us. Paired with Scandinavian folk music and portrayed through increasingly surrealist movement, we learn about the protagonist through his largely abstract flashbacks.

What Lies Beneath is strong in its concept, but fails to deliver upon its execution.

We begin with an acapella rendition of a folk song, which conveys the scene of a desolate mountain very effectively. A man is grieving and this is his self-help. Whilst several questions remain unanswered; a blend of physicality, song and interesting lighting are used to create the story in the process. Gradually more and more people from his life before the tragic event (which is still ambiguous by the end beyond the fact that his significant other has died) emerge from the solitary tent on stage as figments of his imagination, bringing him back to who he was and trying to help him get through the mourning process. Whether they aid the development of the plot (as is the nature of absurdism) is a subjective matter, but I can’t help but feel that they have destroyed any emotional build-up and contributed nothing to the story other than time in the script with their somewhat jokey manner of speech.

The company as a whole is clearly very talented, and present several different styles of theatre with conviction. The problem is, however, that the chosen styles seem to clash more than they complement one another. Physical theatre can be emotive, powerful and expressive – perhaps more so than naturalism – and when the company performs these scenes, they tick all of the above boxes. Near the end of the piece Chris Mawson, Benjamin Ecclestone and Michael Blundell-Lithco surpass all expectations with what I would refer to as a mute monologue; an informative series of movement conveyed through abstract physicality.

On the other hand, dialogue between the male characters; the protagonist and his father, brother, and friend seemed too naturalistic and is entirely incongruous. Whilst my interpretation of this is a representation of how male dialogue in real life equally never scratches below the surface or bonds on a deeper level, it doesn’t fit with the piece and so the message is lost. If the protagonist’s own family are unable to connect with him then the audience certainly aren’t able to either. Any atmosphere or responsive tension created by the folk songs or by the physicality are quickly wiped out, and as a consequence the production has little lasting effect on me.

What Lies Beneath is strong in its concept, but fails to deliver upon its execution. Whilst trying to be everything at once it somehow manages to be very little: and though individual scenes serve as the redemption from certain others, the full piece somehow feels empty.

So, what really does lie beneath? It seems not a whole lot.

Reviews by Matthew Sedman

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The Blurb

A man finds himself alone in the mountains. He has come here to run away from everything and everyone he knows. Tormented by grief that originated in the loss of a dear one, he is unable to process these feelings and decides to seek the answers in the stillness of nature. Romantika (Sweden/UK) presents a surreal and humorous journey, exploring men's reluctance to express their emotions, with specific focus on grief. Contrasting comedy with tragedy, and realism with surrealism, the production includes visual and physical theatre, live folk music, and a set and lighting design inspired by Scandinavian landscapes. 

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