Sea Creatures at Hampstead Theatre
In a cottage by the sea, a family of four women wait for two guests to arrive. They make tea and coffee, eat toast, walk on the beach and swim in the sea. One guest arrives, but the waiting does not end. Now a group of five, they harvest plants, cook dinners and play charades. They paint, drink, read, smoke, tell stories and keep secrets; in short, they go about their lives. Yet every word, bite and sip – every simple domestic act – is laden with the absence of one guest who will likely never return.
Making its world premiere at Hampstead Theatre, Cordelia Lynn’s Sea Creatures is a raw and gripping tale of lives permanently shaped by loss. At its heart, this play is a ghost story. Yes, there are rumours of a dead grandfather whose spirit lingers in the house, plus there’s the fisherman’s yarn of a woman who tore out her heart without dying and now lingers at the shoreline, but these dead are not the real ghosts here. Rather, it is the ever-absent Robin – the respective sister, daughter, and lover of those left in the cottage – who constantly haunts the stage.
The gloom that hovers over the family is mirrored perfectly by the set design. Walls resembling a stormy sea or sky are ambiguous enough in somber colours and patterns to reflect both at turns. A panel in the ceiling acts like a skylight, letting in a low glare tinged with the cool tones of dark waters. On the stage, there is only a small table, a kitchen island and a larger table. This simplicity is effective as the cast move deliberately, utilising the space and their respective positions within it to reflect their shifting relationships with one another.
Like the movement of the sea and the dynamics between the family members, the tone of Sea Creatures rises and falls. It flows smoothly between calm and chaos, peace and violence, humour and tragedy. This seamless drifting is in part due to the nature of Lynn’s writing and the direction of James Macdonald, but it also speaks to the talent of the ensemble, as each character is ideally executed, fleshed out and rounded. Standout performances come from Tom Mothersdale (as the jilted Mark) and Grace Saif (as the childlike Toni).
Through detailed observance of the lives of those still present in the house, Sea Creatures provides a poignant picture of loss and its impact. The inclusion of elements of Celtic folklore and mythology add depth to the already heavily layered story. Despite the themes of grief, trauma and pain, the play also ultimately expounds the strength of love, as one character states: “That’s where love lies, in the longing for the absent thing.”
Sea Creatures is at Hampstead Theatre from 24th March until 29th April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.