Excellent performances from Anna Acton and Louisa Lytton cannot save this play from its lack of depth and purpose.
The depiction of lesbian relationships in theatre was until recently still a novelty, even on the fringe. This play examines the up and downs of a relationship whilst fishing and relaxing on The Gulf of Mexico. Acton is the needy femme Betty, who longs to escape her life as a bartender to become a social worker and Lytton is the butch Kendra, who enjoys fishing, eating steak and eating pussy.
Sadly that is pretty much all we get to know about these characters. Audrey Cefaly’s script never really gets to the nitty-gritty of their relationship, an apparent mother/daughter dynamic never really goes anywhere. Acton and Lytton pull good characterisation and chemistry from the minimal source material they have but their conversations are superficial and shallow, never really explaining why a character behaves as they do, yet expecting their actions to provide a shocking climax. The audience doesn’t know them enough to care why Betty is dependent or why Kendra is so cold towards this woman she loves. Two handers are quite limited anyway but this is the second production I’ve seen, after Lobster earlier this year, that has depicted a lesbian couple that seems more interested in unseen characters that affect the couple’s relationship. As much as everyone slags off monologues two handers seem to be equally limiting to onstage character development.
As a production the decision to present it in the round seems odd, it is rarely presented in a way and much is missed (facial expressions for example) rather than gained. The set and lighting overcompensate for this production. Matthew Gould (who also directs) and Mitchell Reeve (also lighting) have created a real sense of time and place with their boat and lighting that gives a sense of time passing in this 90-minute production.
The Gulf doesn’t seem to have an end goal for the characters or the story. There is a real political and social potential about what is it like to be a lesbian in the Conservative Southern states of America, apart from a reference to the wall (which like most of this play doesn’t go anyway) there is nothing to suggest there is any depth beyond the lesbians on a day out storyline we get.
The Gulf is on until 5 May https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-gulf