Following a run at Theatre N16 last year, John Patrick Shenley’s play has a short stint at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre this month. An intense 80-minute two-hander set in the Bronx, it brings together two outsiders desperate for happiness and a semblance of normality, but all too often they’ve been left feeling hopeless about their chances of a happy ending.
Danny and Roberta find themselves in the same bar, it quiet as usual – just the way they both (independently) like it. Out of nowhere they start talking to each other from their separate tables, and before long they end up sharing secrets they never thought they’d tell anyone, let alone a complete stranger. Danny is 29 and leads a violent life, lurching from one fight to the next; Roberta is 31 and has a chequered past, including divorce and a child. After a tentative start, their relationship hurtles forward at breakneck speed in a bid to find happiness together – but will things work out as they hope?
A performance space above a pub is the ideal setting for this play, with the action taking place in a bar and a bedroom – the atmosphere is there from the start, and the intimacy of the small space really makes it feel like you’re a fly on the wall. Janet A. Cantrill’s lighting design heightens the characters’ sense of isolation, reflecting the darkness of the story being told.
Between each scene is a short piece of choreography, which is a novel method of transitioning between stages of the story and keeping things moving. Kate Lines uses a combination of modern and more traditional dance to create very physical moments, all capable of telling a story in themselves.
Gareth O’Connor and Megan Lloyd-Jones effortlessly create an intense relationship between the characters; their chemistry makes it easy to believe that Danny and Roberta recognise something in each other that would make them want to hold on so desperately to a moment of happiness. O’Connor gives a very physical performance – Danny’s presence is often intimidating, but there are glimmers of tenderness, particularly when Roberta tries to get him to be romantic. As Roberta, Lloyd-Jones is funny but also heartbreaking; she tries to be realistic after a few hours of hope, but can’t resist giving in to the temptation of happiness.
My verdict? An intense 80 minutes that tells a story of the very human need for happiness, in a very intimate setting – the performances leave you on the edge of your seat.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 24 June 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.