Alligators at Hampstead Theatre
In a gruesome exploration of just how easy it is to fall from the top, Andrew Keatley’s dark suburban thriller, directed by Simon Evans, packs a powerful punch. First previewed a year ago, Alligators is one of three pieces given a second lease of life at Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space.
With fresh horrors presenting themselves in the media every day – tales of sexual abuse that run crisscrossing through society, from government to school systems and everything in between – Alligators is as topical as ever, even a year on.
Keatley’s hero, Daniel Turner, seemingly has it all. Loving wife, two beautiful children and a job that he genuinely loves. That is until damning allegations from six years previous resurface and bit by bit the carefully constructed fabric of marital life begins to be picked apart.
The stage setup, designed by Polly Sullivan, is reminiscent of an Ikea showroom – a perfect representation of what family life should look like, from the outside. Set in traverse, one thin sliver of space offers up a slice of suburban bliss but when things turn sour, the effect shifts from intimate to eerily claustrophobic, thus echoing the stifling vilification of a protagonist under house arrest.
Seated on parallel bleacher benches, the audience face not only the stage itself but one another too. It’s not until half way through the performance that this arrangement becomes significant: when, forced to come to our own conclusions about Daniel’s innocence, grimly watching the story unfold, we become a courtroom jury with one man’s fate resting in our collective hands. “Where will people’s instincts lead them,” asks Keatley, “in the absence of absolute knowledge, what do we do?”
The cast is small, yet perfectly formed with standout performances from Susan Stanley, Daniel’s wife, and Leah Whitaker, his strait-laced lawyer. Daughter Tillie Murray represents, with heart-breaking effect, the trauma such an experience can inflict on a young girl. Are we encouraged to see her as a mirror for the conspicuously absent victim who is bringing Daniel’s life crashing around him from afar?
The play’s focus on female sexuality, motherhood and loss of innocence is reflected in a predominantly female cast. Surrounded by women, we consider Daniel’s position as devoted husband and father and shadows of doubt creep in.
Alligators speaks to people’s appetite for destruction, where we are all just one accusation away from being torn down from societal pedestals. Mishearing the word “allegations”, it is Murray’s character that gives the piece its name, neatly underscoring the idea that anyone’s life could be brought crashing down around them by a simple misunderstanding. The second the seed of doubt is planted, the evidence stacks up around you, walling you in forever.
Focussing on subjective truth and memory, Alligators has whispers of Lolita about it, but falls slightly short with heavy dialogue and an over reliance on mixed reptilian metaphors, though it is definitely meaty and thought-provoking. The audience will leave haunted by questions of innocence, morality and the incendiary role the press plays in modern-day witch hunts.
But above all, we’re left to ponder how the secrets that lurk dormant and out of sight in muddy waters have the potential to drag us under and consume us whole – much like the prehistoric beasts that give the play its name.
Photo: Robert Day
Alligators is at Hampstead Theatre from 22nd June until 22nd July. For further information or to book visit here.