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Danny and the Deep Blue Sea review at Old Red Lion Theatre, London – ‘a savage character study’

Megan Lloyd-Jones and Gareth O'Connor in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Old Red Lion Theatre, London. Photo Ben Bardsley-Ball Megan Lloyd-Jones and Gareth O'Connor in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Old Red Lion Theatre, London. Photo Ben Bardsley-Ball

Two bitter loners trapped in separate destructive spirals share a redemptive one night stand in John Patrick Shanley’s low key, low life love story Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.

Reprising a role he first played at London’s Theatre N16 last year, Gareth O’Connor works hard to humanise the brutish, volatile Danny. Utterly unlikable at the outset, his defences slowly slip as the play progresses, revealing a childlike vulnerability. His studied Irish-Bronx growl breaks into a yelp when he shouts. His hands swing awkwardly at his sides when they aren’t balled into fists.

A more complex foil to Danny’s desperate misanthropy, Megan Lloyd-Jones plays Roberta with an extraordinary, fragile ferocity. Burdened with self-loathing and survivor’s guilt, she masochistically seeks out punishment as a stand in for the forgiveness she really needs.

Director Courtney Larkin breaks up the play’s somewhat static scenes with interludes of expressive movement, choreographed with some flare by Kate Lines. In the first of these – a passionately danced but intensely uncomfortable representation of violent sex – the repeated impacts of Lloyd-Jones’ body hitting the floor becomes a sort of percussion. Ross O’Connor’s score is all sleazy guitars and staccato drum machine hits, neatly conjuring the play’s early eighties setting.

There is no set to speak of, only some scattered bar furniture and a filthy mattress on the floor, strewn with clothes and bottles a la Tracey Emin. A tiny skylight suspended overhead allows a metaphorical glimmer of warmth into the play’s otherwise desolate world.

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Verdict
Intense performances energise this revival of John Patrick Shanley’s savage character study.
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