Written in 2001, Abi Morgan’s Tiny Dynamite takes inspiration from a story about a passerby tragically killed by a man’s sandwich plummeting down from the Empire State building. This, and other back-page freak accidents, feature in Morgan’s compact and evocative three-hander. They show up like isolated monologues, punctuating a ritual holiday between lifelong friends, and raise questions about causality. How are events related and can there be such a thing as a fluke, something unexplainable? For Luce and Anthony, these are not idle questions; they become the influential, even vital, parables by which they interpret and explain their pasts.
Known for experimenting with form, Morgan writes clipped, delicate scenes that show Luce (Eva-Jane Willis), a tightly wound risk-analyst, and Anthony (Niall Bishop), an alcoholic who can’t (and may not even want to) keep a job down, on their yearly vacation. They meet local woman Madeleine (Tanya Fear) who swirls up the past, and the scenes begin to take on a growing intensity. Similar to the sandwich hurtling towards the pavement, they accumulate weight and accelerate in the direction of something phenomenal and life-changing, if not perilous.
Director David Loumgair changes the gender of Lucien/Luce from male to female, a dramaturgically and politically motivated decision (according to the Director’s Notes) that works nicely. Each performance is layered, but Willis as Luce provides the most range and complexity. Yet while the performers strive to create an intimacy between them, there’s often a distance that inhibits the characters from really connecting.
It’s partially because Loumgair concentrates so much on establishing an atmosphere of significance. Filament light bulbs fade and brighten, longing looks are exchanged between characters during set changes, and an atmospheric soundscape imbues each moment with meaning. But the overall tone lacks in variety, and Morgan’s quick, twisted and often eruptive humour falls flatter than it should.
It also establishes a laboured tempo that works against the ever-growing volatility in Morgan’s script. What should be a lightning-strike moment – an incandescent climax of revelation – only amounts to a faint glimmer and a hiss, dwindled by an overreliance on sound and light earlier on to tell the story.
Anna Reid’s set design, however, stands out. Strikingly, it provides a blissful contrast to the fraught emotional landscape: a wooden deck encircled by a moat evokes a place of serenity and idleness. The small human-sized pool used as the lake is ingenious, although sadly restricts the movement sequences in between scenes, which never really lift off.
Tiny Dynamite has a poignancy to it, but it’s the kind that strikes sharply and disappears, hard to catch and even harder to jar. It shows itself here and then in this revival, but perhaps too much time is spent trying to capture it and show it off.
Tiny Dynamite is on until 3 February 2018 at the Old Red Lion. Click here for more details.