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The Gulf review at Tristan Bates Theatre, London – ‘doesn’t engage’

Louisa Lytton and Anna Acton in The Gulf at Tristan Bates Theatre. Photo: Rachael Cummings Louisa Lytton and Anna Acton in The Gulf at Tristan Bates Theatre. Photo: Rachael Cummings

The heat is rising in the Alabama Delta. On an isolated fishing trip, Betty is trying to talk to her girlfriend Kendra, but Kendra isn’t having it. Small-town gossip and important conversations alike are met with a wall, and as the evening goes sideways the tension on their relationship builds to breaking point.

The European debut of Audrey Cefaly’s The Gulf showcases her taste for silence, and Matthew Gould’s production unhurriedly allows for Anna Acton’s Betty to wheedle, nudge and rail at Louisa Lytton’s stony Kendra. Hazy lighting (Mitchell Reeve) with a realistic jetty and boat, set in the round, manage to strand us with these characters in the Tristan Bates Theatre’s intimate space. The truth will out, and in this play there is truth recognisable for relationships everywhere.

It’s far from idyllic: neither woman is a healthy person, and the strength of the play is in Lytton and Acton’s frank performances of a couple who can’t stop wearing each other down. Both actors are well cast, settling into their accents and the emotional intensity of the piece.

Some pacing issues, however, prevent it all from becoming something compelling: though much of the dialogue is convincing in its mundane domesticity, it’s not often interesting. We have no real reason to care about this relationship, and it never edges towards surprising territory.

Despite the strengths of Gould’s production, The Gulf’s script doesn’t engage as deeply as it might, leaving us stuck with these characters, going nowhere in particular.

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Close-quarters relationship drama fails to land