House party bathrooms: where the lights are still turned up, overdue conversations rear their ugly or necessary heads, revelation spews to the surface as abruptly as vomit can – and passion, confrontation and despair co-exist in a weird kinda’ harmony.
A particularly familiarly dressed bog (the onstage units are literally what’s in my own flatshare; no set designer is credited oddly, but I digged them) is the setting for Tobias Graham’s Sink: the third piece of new writing in The Space’s Foreword Fest. Graham’s 60-minuter pitches itself as a sort of Skins and Angels in America halfway house – hedonistic storylines akin to stuff we remember from E4 boxsets intertwine with themes intended to leave a more substantial impression. Be ready for loneliness, depression, substance abuse, fragile masculinity, gender politics, gay identity and possible internalised self-hatred, suicide and more all get a look-in, in some form or another.
It’s probably fair to identify Crispin as our protagonist, and the character Graham definitely affords the most depth to. Assisted by that fact, Dominic Holmes offers up the most rounded and engaging performance – as a lost soul, whose determination to be the last on the dancefloor and the most ostentatiously dressed doesn’t quite disguise an eternal sadness behind his eyes. Crispin knows it’s problematic and unproductive and clichéd to be attracted to ‘heterosexual’ alpha-males, the type that assert a hyper-violent and aggressive form of masculinity at all times – but can’t stop himself.
I’d argue this is Sink‘s most promising, and unique, storyline. To say it’s not usually explored onstage is hyperbole I think – but it seems like the writer/director paring do have something distinctive and enlightening to offer up on this matter. The overarching issue for me is the colossal amount of noise and underbaked subplots that cloud, and sort of lessen, Crispin’s story.
Benny’s scenes don’t quite seem to have the necessary depth or subtlety to them for me to be able to emotionally invest anything – he sort of walks around glumly saying variations of ‘am I worthless, Caleb?’ and ‘I’m a bad person’ to anyone who’ll listen before finding some pills. To me, it all feels a little shoehorned in – just one strand of activity amongst many others – and in doing so, I’m not convinced it really does any justice to the (obviously) crucially important male depression/ silence/ suicide narrative that is essential we shed (nuanced) light on right now.
There’s also a stray pregnancy test scene, moments where all seemingly heterosexual males experiment with sexuality – and unfocused movement sections during transitions that end before they’ve begun and add next to nothing. It’s all a bit much to palette in 60-minutes, and made Sink come across almost as confused and jittery as I assume Benny’s mind is supposed to be.
Scenes are well-drilled and there’s nothing particularly at fault about Patrick Bone’s pacing, but an inconsistency to the actor’s performance qualities (and probably to the way the text realises one character to the next) jars. Some – Holmes as Crispin, Gloria Akinfe as Lissie – come across as nuanced individuals that we’re used to seeing in naturalism, whilst others seem intensely cartoonish and far more suited to the hyperreal world of sitcoms. It’s difficult to describe over half the characters as much more than archetypes – we see the ‘rugby lad’, the ‘posh girl’, the ‘working-class guy’ (dressed in a tracksuit…in case we needed clarity) and nothing ever really undermines those identities or proves there to be more ‘to them’. Those sort of characters (painted in big brushstrokes) engaging in conversations, often about fairly harrowing or triggering subject matters, with others far more akin to people in the real world establishes an odd dynamic.
The play’s chronology is also difficult to decipher. I’m completely cool with scenes bleeding into each other (People Places and Things showed, for example, what playing with form and structure can add to onstage mental health narratives) – but multiple moments of Sink just didn’t make sense to me and unfortunately, I couldn’t quite find the effort from within to really try and work it out. Some characters change costume 3 or 4 times, the implication being that action is spread out over a series of house party nights. Right? Maybe? But if so, why are others – like Lissie – wearing the same outfit to every party? Does she have a very small wardrobe? Of course I have the capacity to understand that Benny being onstage doesn’t necessarily mean Benny is still alive – but the non-linear and jittery structure confused the already overbusy content further for me.
Sink is definitely to be commended for a text that goes out of its way to take risks and have some fun with a non-linear structure, and for intending to provoke conversation about topical and overdue content. But if the intention is for this to remain a one-act, 60-minuter – with laughs aplenty in addition to exploration of dark themes – fairly drastic re-writes seem required to strip out the ineffectual subplots, define its focus and uncover genuine insight.