Orca review – Jaws meets The Wicker Man in unnerving drama

Southwark Playhouse, London
Matt Grinter’s play vividly captures the pressure to conform as a girl in an isolated fishing community tries to prevent a devastating mythical ritual

The Papatango prize for new writing has a happy knack of discovering distinctive voices: past winners have included Luke Owen’s Unscorched, about the monitoring of child abuse, and Dawn King’s rurally dystopian Foxfinder. This year’s winner, Matt Grinter, shows similar promise with an unnerving play about a mythical ritual sacrifice that acts as a metaphor for the present.

The setting is a remote island which, judging by the accents, could be off the Scottish coast. Each year a fishing village re-enacts an ancient legend in which a young girl gave her life to a killer whale in order to save the community. We watch in nervous anticipation as Maggie, a carpenter’s child who has previously played the symbolic role of the laurel-wreathed Daughter in the annual pageant, desperately tries to stop her younger sister, Fan, from following in her desolate footsteps.

Rona Morison (Maggie), Carla Langley (Fan) and Simon Gregor (Joshua).
Rona Morison (Maggie), Carla Langley (Fan) and Simon Gregor (Joshua). Photograph: Richard Lakos

The solution to the riddle of what the ritual entails is easily foreseeable, but Grinter captures vividly the pressure to conform in an isolated society and the difficulty of resisting an insidious, persistent patriarchy: I was reminded at different times of The Wicker Man, Jaws and Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea. Frankie Bradshaw has created an outstanding set, in which a rotting wooden jetty juts into the audience and Alice Hamilton’s production is richly atmospheric and very well acted. Carla Langley as the naively optimistic Fan and Rona Morison as the ostracised Maggie are totally plausible siblings and Aden Gillett as the village headman cloaks his threats to the girls under a disarming smile. Grinter, on this evidence, has a genuine talent to disturb.

• At Southwark Playhouse, London, until 26 November. Box office: 020-7407 0234.

Contributor

Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Allegro review – Rodgers and Hammerstein's doctor dances through small-town drama
Thom Southerland directs the European premiere of this musical about an Everyman’s dilemma, but it’s too detached from the wider story of America

Michael Billington

14, Aug, 2016 @12:14 PM

Article image
Floyd Collins review – subterranean homesick bluegrass in sentimental satire
There are some striking performances in this musical about an explorer stuck underground, but too many of the lyrics are incomprehensible

Michael Billington

29, Sep, 2016 @11:59 AM

Article image
Promises, Promises review – Bacharach's musical makeover of Wilder's Apartment
A revival of Neil Simon’s adaptation of the Billy Wilder classic, with songs by Bacharach and Hal David, is well performed but gratingly anachronistic

Michael Billington

18, Jan, 2017 @11:28 AM

Article image
Trestle review – passion, rage and whist in village-hall romance
Energetic Denise and stuck-in-his-ways Harry bond during a series of brief encounters in a community centre, in Stewart Pringle’s prize-winning play

Michael Billington

06, Nov, 2017 @12:41 PM

Article image
Dessert review – capitalist is held captive in Trevor Nunn thriller
Oliver Cotton’s explosive new play explores wealth and morality as a luxurious dinner party is interrupted by an intruder

Michael Billington

19, Jul, 2017 @10:04 AM

Article image
Working review – Lin-Manuel Miranda retunes Terkel's paean to American labour
This musical revue – which originally flopped on Broadway – features exquisite performances and songs by Hamilton’s creator but still feels quaintly nostalgic

Lyn Gardner

09, Jun, 2017 @10:53 AM

Article image
The Life review – New York's sleazy underbelly gets a musical sparkle
This show about 42nd Street in the 1980s is imaginatively staged with the ever-magnificent Sharon D Clarke but it’s a tough sell

Michael Billington

29, Mar, 2017 @11:00 PM

Article image
Natives review – teenage angst goes digital in fable of networked culture
Three young people find that online validation comes at a price, in Glenn Waldron’s hugely enjoyable drama

Lyn Gardner

05, Apr, 2017 @12:23 PM

Article image
Bat Boy: The Musical review – Edward Scissorhands meets Rocky Horror
Rob Compton is terrific as the hero of this B-movie-style musical, but the full-blooded production overwhelms the space, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

15, Jan, 2015 @1:09 PM

Article image
The Greater Game review – glaring miss in front of an open goal
The story of players from Clapton Orient who joined the ‘football battalion’ in the first world war is worth telling, but this production borders on the inept

Lyn Gardner

20, Sep, 2016 @11:48 AM