The Diver

Sun 3rd – Fri 22nd August 2014

reviews

Tania Nicole Clarke

at 23:23 on 14th Aug 2014

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Helen Foster’s one woman show tells the epic tale of a diving expedition, and is certainly a lot of fun, but the performance would work far better if it were a children’s show rather than a post-dinner evening performance pitched to nearing-tipsy adults. Foster wrote and enacts the playful story alone, and should be praised for her vivid imagination, playfulness and energy, but, much to our dismay, Foster’s intense characterisation does become a little too much to handle nearing the second half of her story-telling.

Foster is a loveable character, and the show itself is very easy to watch, but when we realise the only other characters that populate the story are all animals living at the bottom of the sea we soon feel slightly weary of the sickly sweet, simplistic tone of the show. Not to mention the interactive components whereby the audience are required to imitate a kelp forest, equipped with torches, bubble machines and mood music. Foster encourages us to really throw ourselves into this, and I can’t help feeling like a kid again. Everyone loves Finding Nemo, and Foster is an extremely skilled ventriloquist who manages to characterise quirky sea creatures using only her own hand and a high-pitched voice, but this is only humorous for a short time, and when her fishy friends keep coming back for more we can’t help but feel they are slightly grating.

Kate, the female protagonist of the performance, is a cross between Bridget Jones and Amanda Holden, she speaks in a rounded, toff accent and is referred to in her pre-recorded voice-overs as “a fierce young woman” embarking on a deep sea dive. Music and voice are used throughout the story to keep us entertained, with tunes ranging from Ludovico Einaudi to the Titanic theme tune, sometimes this plays its part in helping to tell the story, but the use of music can admittedly feel slightly too melancholic and emotional.

The arc of the tale itself also needs a bit more attention in really engaging with the half-cut audience members. The pace of the show itself could have been injected with a bit more urgency; we notice this the most when Foster stops to provide one of the sea creatures with in-depth life advise, and, as she engages in a deep meaningful conversation (with her own hand) we become slightly lost and confused.

The story-telling involves some really touching, poignant moments, for instance when Kate falls in love with a giant squid, and is dancing with a huge tentacle that reaches from behind the stage for a solid five minutes, or when we say goodbye to Kate’s dear friend Fish, the fish. I came away from this performance with a lot of admiration for Foster, mainly due to her ability to be so sparky and full of life late at night, but also because she is a skilled performer who throws herself into an hour of physical comedy, puppetry and story-telling. This is a fun, comforting and highly inventive show, but I would strongly discourage anyone drinking gin to attend, as this could easily end in tears.

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Oliver Collard

at 09:52 on 15th Aug 2014

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Leaving the warmth of the intimate Pivo, I realised that The Diver had put me in a bit of a reviewing quandary. I want to say I liked the show, I really do. It’s charming in places and makes good use of a small venue. But if Helen Foster’s one woman performance displayed moments of charisma, it failed to deliver on some initial signs of promise.

Sliding into her ramshackle diving apparatus - a vacuum hose with balloons on each end, which she draped and gaffa-taped on herself - Foster made some good use of inexpensive tech, sarcastically remarking in a voice-over that nothing but the ‘latest technology’ would suffice for her adventurer Kate’s epic voyage, a 3,500 mile underwater trek across the Atlantic. It was these moments of self-deprecating awareness which made me warm to her performance early on.

There was no denying the creativity that has gone into this new piece of writing. Some of the audience interaction was very novel, although it proved to be hit and miss overall. At one point, we became a fairly convincing kelp forest of wavering arms, complete with torches, tambourines, and bubbles. The decision to frequently smash the subaqueous fourth wall was a bit of a gamble; mildly amusing and definitely engaging, but ultimately, quite disruptive for the development of the main character.

Comedy and tension were ineffectually spliced together. It never really felt like there was an obstacle that could stop Kate from reaching her goal because everything was set up only to be surmounted within a couple of minutes or a couple of seconds in some cases.

My gripes seemed to multiply the more Foster stretched herself across characters, like sharks scenting blood. To be sure, there were also a couple of cheesy mimed battles with various ocean predators: an easily dispatched giant clam and a shoal of carnivorous fish.

I reserved a special kind of disdain for the carpel-tunnel inducing fish with a gratuitous Mexican accent - played by her weaving hand - who mercifully disappeared twice only to return again and then finally die. A glove puppet slug was only marginally less annoying which at least was partly intentional in his case.

Indeed, at times, it seemed like the play was trying to do too much; the incongruous moments of drama when Kate paused to reflect on her relationship with her father and her fear of failure came out of the blue.

If the play got stranded on the ocean floor early on, some notable flourishes looked like they might have got it moving again. A 'terrifying' kraken gave her the chance to read the audience well in a hilarious display of puppetry that temporarily lit up this sojourn under the sea, kissing all the way up its long tentacle. Subtly wielding this appendage, she danced, canoodled, and watched movies with it in a glimpse of the sheer zaniness that could have been.

Nevertheless, all in all, I can’t help but feel that this play would benefit from being honed into a sharper comic piece. Bogged down under its extraneous matter, I was tempted to breathe a sigh of relief with Kate as she broke in New York, signalling the end of the play.

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