This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
David Ralfe makes his first appearance on stage wearing a large inflatable dolphin on his back. He explains that the creatures are known for helping people in trouble at sea to safety and have become a symbol for carers. He goes on to tell a story about Kate, a teenage girl suffering from anorexia, bulimia and self-harming tendencies, but the show that he has written is not really about Kate at all. It is about the dolphin.
Kate was David’s girlfriend when both were 15. She seemed troubled, so “tell me anything” he said and she did. With her parents oblivious to her problems, he bore the burden alone, being her sole confidante and the only witness to the extent of her mental and physical deterioration. Ralfe repeatedly interrupts Kate’s story with the bland reassurance “it’s not about me”, but his body language, the rhythm of his speech, his anger and his frustration all tell us that his torment is at least the equal of hers.
David does not fully understand what Kate calls her “thinspiration”, but efforts to seek help and guidance – a useless NHS drop-by centre, teachers and, eventually Kate’s father – all fail. Director Christopher Harrisson ensures that the show is much more than a simple monologue, adding sound and visual elements to heighten moods. A low-pitched humming, heard in the background throughout, gets louder at times of tension; upright tubes sit on the floor for David to rearrange frantically, as if trying to soothe his troubled mind or bring some sort of symbolic order to chaos; and subtle lighting changes (designer Alex Fernandes) add to the dramatic effect.
Maybe David’s story is commonplace, not filled with high drama or tragedy, but this show from On The Run Theatre punches well above its weight emotionally. It is constructed lovingly, staged imaginatively and marked throughout by total honesty.
Performance date: 8 August 2016
Photo: Alex Brenner