Edward Bond writes dark plays— ranging in shade from the merely crepuscular to the manifestly midnight. Surely The Sea falls at the lighter end of this spectrum. Bond’s only self-proclaimed comedy, it limits its grisliness to a terrible drowning, a slashing with scissors, and the defilement of a corpse. What larks!
Perhaps the most underappreciated and unrelenting of England’s playwrights, Bond has commented, “I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austen wrote about manners.” Brutality does flow naturally from his pen, but comedy clogs and spatters. In The Sea, a 1973 play set in the Edwardian era, an East Anglian town is shaken when a young man drowns off its coast. Insanity, young love, and an amateur production of Orpheus and Eurydice soon ensue—stony ground for laughs. Director Scott Alan Evans creates some pretty stage pictures, but he hasn’t a hope of resolving Bond’s awkward jests and tonal difficulties. He seems attracted to the weight and portentousness of Bond’s language, but offers little insight or illumination. A popular Edwardian tune may have effused, “I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside,” but Bond’s beach is a none-too-inviting place to swim.