The Manchester Review

Tank, HOME, reviewed by Emma Rhys

Tank, Breach Theatre, HOME, May 4 2017.

It’s the 1960s. Consciousness is being expanded by LSD and a house is being flooded with water to accommodate a specious romance between a woman named Margaret and a dolphin named Peter. Sex n’ drugs n’ dolphins.

FADE IN: Dolphin Point Laboratory, St Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Psychonaut John Lilly circles the pools, making notes on his clipboard. He’s composing his weekly report on the dolphins’ linguistic progress to be sent to NASA. After completing his rounds, he takes another hit of acid.

– So this thing happened. Like, they actually did this experiment. They tried to teach a dolphin to speak English. To speak. English. Like, can you imagine it?

So asks Ellice Stevens – one of the show’s two narrators – in a thematically garbled modern vernacular of astonishment as she and fellow narrator Craig Hamilton attempt to choreograph, probe and critique a darkly funny, disturbing and thought-provoking re-enactment of the real-life experiences of a doomed dolphin (played by Joe Boylan) and a ditzy dolphinista (played by Sophie Steer).

CUT TO: Margaret drives along the seafront in a red Cadillac – no, a white Corvette. She’s blonde and wearing a swimsuit – no, she’s dark and wearing a T-shirt. The camera pans up her long bare legs – no, the camera zooms in on her face. She’s wanking off a gigantic dolphin cock because she likes it – no, she’s mechanically relieving a dolphin because she doesn’t like bruises.

So goes the struggle between the two narrators as they attempt to appropriately visualize and make sense of such an inappropriate scenario.

– I want you to speak in English. Think in English. Peter, speak! Speak, Peter!

So enunciates Margaret like an overzealous ESL teacher in some remote corner of the globe where even Hollywood has not reached – namely, because it’s too wet for a TV set.

Tank was produced by the award-winning multimedia performance company Breach Theatre, who create politically engaged, formally exploratory shows that blend drama and documentary; it delivers on all these counts as well as being a treat for the senses. The opening set consists of a simple boardroom set-up, complete with an office water dispenser frequently drawn from (were they planning to immerse us too?) and a projector screen showing previously videos of the actors, adding an additional dimension of representation that rippled over the drama onstage.

Peter’s transition from pool to house was cleverly depicted with encircling white tape, which effectively evoked the claustrophobic domestic space in which Peter and Margaret engaged in a fraught yet well-meaning mating-swim (between language lessons). The special effects, lighting, sound and costume were innovative and well-realized; the atmosphere in the theatre one of tense excitement throughout, with barely contained screams, squirms and laughter culminating in the entrancing spectacle of Peter on LSD – a troupe-trip of synchronised-dancing, disco lights and a bobbing rubber dolphin head. As Peter’s and Margaret’s discomfort becomes increasingly apparent, the show masterfully builds to a violent climax to the music of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’, while distorting mics induced startlingly convincing dolphin noises from the actors, all of whom played their roles masterfully – Sophie Steer and Joe Boylan in particular, with Steer’s comic, sensuous interpretation of Margaret and Joe’s anguished, blow-hole tied embodiment of Peter.

Tank is a sixty-minute trip you will only regret taking if you’re a dolphin drying out in an auditorium rather than copulating in the sea where you belong.

Tank is at HOME until May 6.

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