REVIEW: Surfacing, Mercury Theatre Colchester ✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews Surfacing by Tom Powell at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.

Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
4 May 2024
3 Stars

Using technology to symbolise mental health and neurodiversity, Tom Powell’s play looks at the spiralling crisis experienced by NHS therapist Luc when she encounters a “service user”, Owen, who is experiencing a situation similar to hers. Her inner thoughts are projected onto a screen, and the audio soundtrack demonstrates to us the vast difference between her mindfulness chanting and the myriad of emotions she experiences. Both have lost a sibling to drowning, and the only way to move forward is to go to the place where it happened. Inevitably, with a piece so reliant on technology, if things go wrong the impact is lessened a little, and there was a show stop which paused the performance for some time. Even considering that, however, the play feels a little over-written, and could do with some editing to make a crisper show.

The performances are strong, and there were times when I felt they were all I needed, the clarity of the play really shines with Sarah Livingstone taking us on Luc’s meandering and anxious journey convincingly, and Jerome Yates is impressive as Owen, and a variety of roles. This includes a lab mouse, who Luc had to nearly drown and then save in a medical experiment, and whilst this is amusing once, the device is overused. Similarly, whilst the show makes excellent points about waiting lists, the need to speak to a human being and not tick boxes and automated menus, Luc’s boss is first performed by Yates as a robotic manager, and then technologically in duologue with Luc, full bot. It repeats the point, and I wondered whether just one scene would have been more effective. The cast wear sensors to interact with the technology, but the strength is in Powell’s script, containing some very fine dialogue.

The technology may be cutting edge, but the set is basic, possibly because the show is on tour. Even so, there is very much a home-made feel about it, which fails to fully immerse the audience in the experience. The stakes never feel raised too high, despite being on the verge of catastrophe, it never feels that either character wouldn’t survive. However, there is much to admire in the writing and performances, and the piece is very educative.

Share via
Send this to a friend