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Boat review at Theatre N16, London – ‘intriguing but slightly fuzzy’

Boat at Theatre N16. Photo: Shawn Soh Boat at Theatre N16. Photo: Shawn Soh

The incongruously named Theatre N16 has set up home in one of the many rooms within the spectacularly cavernous Bedford pub in Balham (all the way down in SW12). It is an area underserved by theatre and the company clearly has ambitions for the space, even if the inaugural show doesn’t quite do it justice.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s play contains some potent ideas. It is a kind of fable in which a young woman is at sea on a boat of her own construction, lost, floating in a cellophane sea – an image of our times in so many ways – but the writing also feels quite fuzzy and derivative, and it is impossible to watch without thinking of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

Director Max Barton has a strong sense of the visual though, and there are some striking images here – particularly the moment in which the girl’s sister smothers her face in clay. While the text is slightly flimsy, Barton attempts to do interesting things with it. As in his brilliantly tense production of Philip Ridley’s Piranha Heights last year, it contains a bold moment of collapse, when Shawn Soh’s set falls apart, but other devices don’t quite come off.

There is a slightly half-hearted attempt to create a live soundtrack using noises supplied by the audience, but the company does not commit to it as much as it might and the piece as a whole struggles slightly to sustain itself over its relatively short running time. The venue has real potential though, and it will be exciting to see what happens here next.

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Intriguing, if slightly fuzzy, inaugural production in a new theatre space with real potential