Sea Fever – Review

Written & Directed by Neasa Hardiman

Ireland / 2020 / 89 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The sub-genre of ecological horror usually finds itself graced by the ‘marvels’ of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening or Cody Duckworth’s Harbinger. These narratives regularly push the ethos of ‘mankind bad – nature good, with limited tact or subtlety, when, with reworkings and deft narratives, the films’ intentions have the potential to produce realist thrillers. Irish writer and director Neasa Hardiman strives to create nuance with her latest piece Sea Fever, an eco-thriller set aboard a fishing trawler, where scientist Siobhán finds herself stranded, at the mercy of the high seas and a perplexing creature beneath the hull.

Hardiman attempts to push romances and story exposition to exert an emotional connection with the audience, which fails for the most part. Hermione Corfield turns in a surprisingly steady performance as Siobhán, but is let down by Hardiman’s direction. There’s little to Siobhán outside of her academic prowess, which disconnects the audience; there’s not much motivation and we don’t feel a zest for why Siobhán is here outside of her employer’s orders to get ‘hands-on’ with research. Corfield tries to create the balanced character of an earnest scientist using her knowledge to survive, but there’s inadequate chemistry with the rest of the crew and as a result, the audience has scant reason to root for them over the ‘monster’, a bio-luminescent parasite.

The on-screen chemistry between Dougray ScottConnie Neilson and Corfield is the most seamless aspect of the characterisation, though it still remains limited. Meanwhile, Hardiman weaves in a theme of fact versus superstition, playing with concepts such as folk cures and myths of the parasite’s origins. It makes for an interesting concept, which, if explored further, would open greater possibilities for development or character contrast.

There are attempts to make Siobhán empathetic or caring for the environment, but these stumble. Chiefly, in demonstrating how a scientist is above murder, Siobhán comments on how she ‘researches’ and the crew ‘kills’ – but within seconds, she makes suggestions on how to eliminate the parasite. It’s small cracks like these in the writing which curb the usual tropes the genre forgives.

Further issues arise in the film’s pacing, which veers between glacial and rushed; after the parasite introduces itself early into the narrative, it becomes the focus. As such, only a superficial form of relationship building with the crew is achievable. While growing strains between the characters intensify further into the film, there isn’t much opportunity for a changing dynamic, as tension is only made tangible in extreme situations. The audience isn’t aware of individuals acting out of character due to the parasite, since there is little character to change.

The use of multiple climaxes and thematic callbacks demonstrate clever use of plot twisting and foreshadowing from Hardiman, though the film’s ending may leave audiences desiring more. Hardiman’s overarching idea is short of ingenious, taking the eco-thriller genre a touch more seriously than other filmmakers. The soundscape is minimal, capitalising on silence while leveraging the score to work with the moments of horror. Christoffer Franzén’s composition plays well into the lapping waves and the threatening dull thuds of the parasite on the ship’s hull; it’s a complimentary soundtrack which deserves notice.

Not entirely as fresh as imaginable, Sea Fever tries to elevate the eco-thriller, a genre which more often than not relegates itself to giant creatures, viral epidemics and over-the-top warnings of ecological destruction. Hardiman perhaps spreads her subtlety thinly, demonstrating a keen desire to highlight ocean pollution and over-fishing, but doesn’t tie it into the science as well as she could. With thinly-veiled allusions to science versus belief, Sea Fever sets out with promise but runs into choppy waters before leaving port.

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Sea Fever will be available on Digital & DVD from April 27th 2020

The Man Who Planted Trees – Scottish Storytelling Centre

Written by Jean Giono

After thirteen years and with over 1,700 performances under their belts, you would think that Puppet State Theatre – the company behind The Man Who Planted Trees – would pack up their acorns and have a bit of a rest. It’s a pleasure to say that the company are still performing this astoundingly delightful show, and are bringing theatre to people of all ages with a tale that is sadly more vital than ever.

In 2019 this piece is glaringly important. Not only because of its ecological standpoint, but also due to its nuanced themes of neighbourly respect, kindness and appreciation. Adapted from the short story by Jean Gionothe show follows Elzéard Bouffier, a shepherd who single-handedly begins to re-plant 10,000 trees. He does so without seeking praise or glory – it is only Jean (and Bouffier’s dog) who realise the tremendous feat the man undertakes.

It is remarkably rare to find a production which appeals to the masses without cheap tactics, relying simply on the power of its storytelling and the raw, emotional heart of its message. It’s spectacular that so much can be communicated here with through theatrical magic, exquisite world-building and cracking humour. 

With the same puppets in use for over a decade, cherished by puppeteers and audience alike, there’s a deep warmth to this multi-sensory and engaging production. The power and importance of The Man Who Planted Trees only increases with age. It is an exquisite balance of humour, emotion, heart, war, pain and beauty. This isn’t only something to catch during the Fringe – this is something to see anytime you can.

Review originally published for The Skinny:

Eye of the Storm – The King’s Theatre

Writer & Director: Geinor Styles

Music & Lyrics: Amy Wadge

There’s fascination over storms, an unparalleled force of nature. Harnessing its capabilities could provide answers to issues of global warming and fossil fuel usage. As Greta Thunberg rallies thousands of strikes, walkouts and peaceful demonstrations across the globe – Geinor Styles’ Eye of the Storm places environmentalism as the casing of her story concerning a young carer who has dreams as colossal as the task of fixing this world.

Just off the green valleys of South Wales, Emmie is the primary carer for her mother, Angela. Struggling to balance school, her family and homework, Emmie has ambitions in studying storms, figuring out their anatomy. Rosey Cale is hypnotic in terms of her vocals, which command attention in her control, range and projection. Emmie is young, capable but Cale captures the fragmentary moments where even the strongest of us struggle.

The potential for an insightful production on often forgotten communities, focusing on the lives of young carers and their dreams is staggeringly vital theatre. Comprising multiple workshops with young carers, Eye of the Storm is a composite of their feelings, hopes and frustrations whipping into a colourful, musical frenzy. Theatr na nóg offers their story – yet not only theirs, but to shine a light on the talents of Welsh theatre, something all too relegated to the South of the nation.

Concerning Amy Wadge’s lyricism, many of the numbers have a regrettable similarity, though the duet between sisters Emmie and Karen is wrought with powerful subtext and balanced vocals. The live band, are on form, smoothly transitioning between instrumental to the acting role.

In the role of half-sister Karen, it’s easy to vilify the relation who isn’t providing care, instead, working on their own life, but Caitlin McKee maintains an identifiable presence, conveying the pressure of realising she needs to do more but worries she can’t. As the initial confrontations pass, McKee’s role extends in understanding these complex relationships usually criminally hidden or forgotten.

Suffering is Dan Bottomly’s Walt, the physics teacher who is in education for all the wrong reasons. Concerningly, what first appears to be a commentary on unengaging teachers, is instead left abandoned as a character who is difficult to read, has an odd ‘redemption’ arc and has strong vocals which are put to poor use. Style’s direction throws in curveballs for this character, in particular, we’re unsure of whether this misogynistic teacher who refuses to educate a young girl is a redeemable hero due to his closing actions, or just a bit of an arse.

Noteworthy in attempt, bringing the plight of climate change to the stage is a tremendously admirable cause, though a cautionary warning for the budding scientists in the audience – there’s less a stretch of dramatic imagination and more a hodgepodge of Wikipedia science.

Allow the rain to wash over you, let the wind ruffle your hair and open your eyes to the lives of the 700,000 young carers across the UK. Facing the problems of the world valiantly, Eye of the Storm rages itself headfirst into the oncoming tempest, failing to watch for the occasional pitfall. In attempting to promote a Welsh community, with an environmental message linking to the concerns of young carers, Style’s piece spreads itself thinly at the edges.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: