The Southwark Playhouse's Vault is an interesting space, but not one that lends itself to everything. I found its acoustics to be a bad match for a musical
but its latest occupant is much better suited to the space. A dark tunnel where you can smell the damp and, even in this weather, see the actors' breath steaming, can only help build atmosphere in a show set on a small fishing trawler in the middle of a storm. A 2010 Fringe First winner (surely the last one to make it to London - 2011's crop is already queing up to transfer) Bound
is an incredibly assured and professional debut from Jesse Briton and a team of recent graduates from East 15. Having just returned from a trip, manipulative Captain Woods (John McKeever) persuades the crew of the "Violet" to set off again immediately when their wholesaler goes bust and his own financial straits look dire as a result. Partly caused by their tiredness and partly by the arrival of a Polish agency worker (Thomas Bennett) a lot of their long-running issues with each other come to the fore, while all the time they're getting closer to a treacherous storm.
During set changes the cast sing sea-shanties which echo around the room helping build atmosphere, although it's the use of humour that really makes you care about the characters. There's a strong feeling of a long-established, fraught relationship between the grumpy, damaged oldest crew member (Alan Devally) and the cocky youngest (Joe Darke - cute) while a third (Daniel Foxsmith) is eternally stuck trying to make peace between them; it feels slightly more developed than the parallel one between the Captain and his business partner (James Crocker) though the latter does also get some character moments with the rest of the cast. Meanwhile Bennett has a good line in wide-eyed comic confusion as the newcomer. Briton, who also directs, has the actors hold off on the "swaying at sea" acting until the most effective possible moment and with simple lighting and few props the cast create a feeling of location and, near the end, one of those rare moments where the tension in the audience is palpable. The place was only about half-full tonight but it's still early in the run so hopefully word will get out that this is definitely one to catch.¹Bound
by Jesse Briton is booking until the 22nd of October at Southwark Playhouse Vault.
¹Catch! See? Fishing boat? Catch? Oh please yourselves.