Dyl is a horrible name for a baby girl. Truly awful. But that’s the least of James’ worries. He’s more concerned that he hasn’t seen his daughter – or her mother, his childhood sweetheart – in months. And that his new job on a North Sea oil rig is punishingly tough, both mentally and physically. And that his new Scottish flatmate – the bisexual, obsessively bathroom-clean Ryan – is driving him nuts. And that his mother is exhausting herself journeying the several hundred miles between him and his young child every weekend. Still though, shit name.
Mark Weinman’s debut play – directed here by new Old Red Lion artistic director Clive Judd – is a slow, contemplative almost-comedy following James as he glowers and pushes himself through this purgatory. It is a work of undoubted potential – Weinman peddles an appealing line in quirky, dry humour and maps out his characters’ inner geography with painstaking deliberation – but it’s not helped by a staging that’s far more expressionist, far cooler than it ought to be.
James (Scott Arthur), we slowly learn, has moved to Aberdeen to punish himself. For what, we don’t find out until the play’s denouement, but it must be pretty bad if he’s forcing himself to work for weeks at a time on a remote, man-made island stuck somewhere between Scotland and Scandinavia. He’s only 25, and he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. His flat-mate Ryan (Laurie Jamieson) is an abrasive, but ultimately loveable chap, an Aberdonian salesman who eats cereal in the evening; the faltering growth of their friendship forms the bulk of Weinman’s play.
Arthur and Jamieson are great, as are Joyce Greenaway and Rose Wardlaw, who make powerful but fleeting appearances as James’ mother and ex-partner respectively. They’re all served well by Weinman’s thoughtful, meandering dialogue, which juxtaposes whimsical flights of odd-couple comedy with meditative moments of quiet. All four unpack an awful lot from the text – from the sheer fury of someone usurping your parental place, to the aching desire to be with the ones you love, to the deadening paralysis of guilt – and they do it all with a supremely confident naturalism.
Dyl could do with losing a fair chunk – it would probably work better as 90 minutes sans interval, rather than two-and-a-bit hours plus break – and with having its drama redistributed – at the moment, all the meaty stuff is packed into the last 15 minutes – but it would also pack about ten times the punch if director Judd had trusted his cast to mine its arresting subtext with their own accomplished naturalism.
Instead, he periodically plunges his production into superfluous passages of hyper-sped movement, with Arthur, Jamieson and Greenaway fretting the stage feverishly, coffee cups and suitcases in hand; time is passing, we get it. And Jemima Robinson’s jet-black, living room set – with oil squelching down the walls and pooling on the floor – is similarly overwrought. It’s all a bit much, the baby and the bathwater and the whole, cast-iron bath.
Play is underdeveloped, production overdeveloped, then. Chop a bit off the text, repaint the set, lose all the directory stuff, change the girl’s name, and you’ve got an understated masterpiece on your hands, rather than just a vaguely promising, vaguely funny, vaguely impressive debut.
Dyl is on at the Old Red Lion until 12th June 2017. Click here for more details.