Dark, dank and murky, the unused railway tunnels under Waterloo Station
would seem the ideal location for Beth Steel’s post-apocalyptic play, Ditch,
a co-production between HighTide and the nearby Old Vic.
Entering the cavernous space via a makeshift box office, you’re free to
explore the various scene-setting installations – a dead rabbit hanging by
its legs, a tree suspended above a circle of crimson, piles of mud-coated
junk, a cute illuminated fawn – and visit the unexpectedly plush bar before
taking your (thankfully) padded red seat to watch the conventionally staged
play as trains rumble noisily overhead.
Steel’s gloomy view of what Britain might be like in the near future –
flooded by water, governed by fascist strongmen intent on rounding up the
last of the “illegals” still roaming the countryside, and with food in short
supply – is as unappealing as designer takis’ evocation of the remote Peak
District farm turned Security outpost.
Here, with the help of Matti
Houghton’s young Megan, Dearbhla Molloy’s strict Mrs. Peel caters as best
she can for a trio of soldiers (Sam Hazeldine, Paul Rattray and newest
arrival James Gethin Anthony – none of whom have much of a future to look
forward to) under the control of Danny Webb’s newly promoted Burns, a
whisky-sodden old-timer waiting in vain for his son to return from fighting
over a pipeline in Venezuela.
There’s nothing wrong with the performances, and the chilly location adds
atmosphere. But Steel’s scenario lacks originality and – despite a handful
of well-written scenes, the occasional witty retort, and a single striking
act – this drama (her first) is only as nourishing as Mrs Peel’s solitary
early spud with its promise of better things to come.
Review: Louise Kingsley