The Rip Current

18/08/22

Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

The Rip Current, written and co-directed by Molly Keating, is an ambitious piece of theatre, dealing with themes of truth and identity. It’s his first year at uni, and Jamie (Charlie Bolden) should be proud of his success: he’s made it to Cambridge, after all. But, as a working-class Scot, he’s struggling to fit in. Posh-boy Bertie (James Cummings) keeps putting Irn Bru posters on Jamie’s door, and teasing him about his accent. Adrift, trying desperately to stay afloat, Jamie starts to have nightmares – “or flashbacks” – about his absent dad, Ruiraidh (Max Hanover). The few memories Jamie has are fond ones, so why did his mum, Bridie (Megan Burns), force Ruiraidh to leave? And why won’t she talk about it? After a term away, Jamie’s determined to find out more – about who he is, and where he comes from.

It’s an interesting premise, and throws up a number of intriguing ideas. However, the structure is a little unbalanced. The opening monologue, delivered convincingly by Bolden, sets the subject matter up nicely, but the following scene, at university, is perhaps somewhat overdone. Cummings inhabits Bertie’s role extremely well, but the dialogue makes his sneering too overt, so that it’s not quite credible. The relationship between the two young men is compelling, but – beyond a fleeting vignette in the final moments – we never get to see this develop, nor learn how things play out.

Instead, we’re whisked back home with Jamie, for a long and detailed analysis of how his parents’ marriage went wrong. There are some excellent moments here: Ruiraidh’s slow, deliberate removal of his belt, for example, works well; this restrained and understated piece of direction creates a chilling atmosphere. I also like the way Bridie’s constant busy-ness and bright chatter contrast with Jamie’s inertia and sullen monosyllables; Keating and her co-director, Tess Bailie, clearly have some strong concepts. But the conversation is too repetitive: the dialogue needs to be pared back, to ensure this second half doesn’t lose momentum.

I’m not sure about some of the symbolism. Why does Ruiraidh always enter and exit through the wardrobe door? Is it because he’s been closeted away and kept secret or is it a reference to the fact that Jamie only sees him in dreams? Whatever it’s supposed to represent, it doesn’t quite work for me, and seems a little clunky. The dinner scene is another problem. There are both too many props and too few: the scene is cluttered with dishes, a grater and a loaf of bread, but there’s no sign of the three-course feast they’re supposed to be eating, and this feels like a compromise too far. It would be better either to opt for a more abstract approach, where we don’t see the meal at all, or to at least fill the glasses with water and put something on the plates. Personally, I’d favour the former approach, but either way, something more consistent would benefit the scene.

The Rip Current certainly has potential, but I think it needs some judicious editing before we can really see it at its best.

2.6 stars

Susan Singfield

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