“Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside,” trills the popular British holiday song. But a day at the beach isn’t much fun when one has a deadly allergy to sunlight. Nor is it much of an outing to pass two days stuck inside a council flat with that sickly character, Ray, a retired London thug, and two others: Terry, his gormless son, and Karen, Terry’s orphaned friend who bafflingly develops the hots for Ray. Set on a sunny stretch of England’s South Coast, Matt Wilkinson’s tedious Red Sea Fish—the first entry in this year’s Brits Off Broadway fest—might put one off sand and salt air permanently.
Though it runs just over two hours, the play feels endless. Wilkinson’s script is heavy on the maritime metaphor and symbolism, but light on narrative import. Conflicts arise, secrets spill out, a romance briefly flares, but the portentous writing and Wilkinson and Frank McCabe’s heavy-handed direction tamp down anything that threatens to get lively. Young Terry imagines escaping to the Red Sea. By the play’s end, I had similar fantasies of flight—not to the Red Sea, merely to the street below.