Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

 
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
First presented in 2002 by Professional Company outside Wales

synopsis:
Presented by Paines Plough in association with Graeae Theatre

A vicious tale of love, revolt and beauty

In a land where the ethnic cleansing of the beautiful is almost at an end, where physical perfection is destroying the nation’s moral will and society’s sense of well-being is decaying through ‘radiance’ poisoning, Tara and Julian are waiting for the order to come - these people must die.

On the run from the squad, Darren shelters the couple, believing Tara is the angel sent to save him. As Kelly, the enforcer of the order draws closer, she entices him to denounce the runaways they both loathe but secretly covet, forcing Darren to resort to violent measures to ensure his saviour is safe.
  
Gary Owen creates a nihilistic new world where the imperfect, once spurned have taken control, where suburbia is sick and attraction is ultimately fatal.

THE DROWNED WORLD is directed by Vicky Featherstone, designed by Neil Warmington, lighting designed by Natasha Chivers and sound by Nick Powell.  The full cast is Josephine Butler (Lawless Heart), Theo Fraser Steele (Before You Go), Neil McKinlen and Eileen Walsh

Artistic Director of Paines Plough, Vicky Featherstone is one of the most inspired and inspiring directors of her generation and a passionate producer of new work.  
 

   There are 6 reviews of Professional Company outside Wales's The Drowned World in our database:
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
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Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August-17-02
Ruined teeth and oozing skin may not seem ideal qualifications for a dictator class, but in Gary Owen's futuristic drama, only the alarmingly unattractive can rule. An Orwellian shadow hangs over this startling, confident work, which creates a world where beauty, love and charisma are crimes to be eradicated by a political system built entirely on envy.

Owen's The Shadow of a Boy received mixed reviews at the National Theatre earlier this summer. Here, however, director Vicky Featherstone reveals The Drowned World as a linguistically daring, conceptually mesmerising work that makes Shakespeare's green-eyed monster look disconcertingly clawless.

Tara and Julian (Josephine Butler and Theo Fraser Steele) are an irritatingly beautiful couple; the kind born to pose in the windows of trendy bars, while Darren and Kelly (Neil McKinven and Eileen Walsh) are so clammily repellent that you would have problems sitting next to them on a train. All four face the audience from a garishly picturesque set, where lilies in a metallic, glassfronted case form the backdrop, and describe the shifts of power in a system where it is a sin even to enjoy a sunset.

Owen knows that a purely aesthetic polarisation of society would not be enough to make this psychologically engaging. His stroke of genius is to tap into paranoia about nuclear and chemical warfare by classifying attractiveness as "radiance", which - like radiation - can supposedly contaminate all those who come near it. The superb cast brings out every nuance of Owen's hellish, yet strangely comic, vision.
reviewer:
Rachel Halliburton (The Evening Standard)
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
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Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August-06-02
We are at some point in the future. The world is not divided into the haves and have-nots, the educated and the ignorant, but simply into the beautiful and the ugly. While the lumpen and clumsy have been awarded citizenship, the beautiful of face, heart and mind, carriers of what is known as "radiance sickness", are put into quarantine, a polite way of saying that they are killed. To leave them walking around is a reminder to everyone else of what they can never be.

Tara and Julian are non-citizens, beautiful of name and body; Kelly is a policewoman sent with a squad to kill them. But the operation is bungled. Kelly looks into Julian's eyes and is devastated by her own tiny, twisted reflection. Tara and Julian escape, taking refuge in the house of Darren, a lonely citizen who longs to touch one of the beautiful.

What follows is a struggle for survival, a story of the loved and the unloved, the pure and the corrupted, the betrayers and the betrayed. It is a vicious story because human beings are vicious, but it also has the compassion to see the beauty gleaming in the depths of ugliness.

Director Vicky Featherstone has a gift for making the unimaginably strange seem quite normal. She does it here with Gary Owen's play. His liquid, lyrical prose has such high density that it can feel pretty heavy going. But the quartet of actors give brave, direct performances and Neil Warmington's design, with its eerie fish tank and patch of green lawn, raises the spectre of two lost worlds. The play isn't enjoyable to watch, but it worms its way into your brain and won't go away. The further you are away from it, the more compulsive it feels.
reviewer:
Lyn Gardner (The Guardian)
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
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Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August-06-02
We live in an age of surfaces, where being telegenic may be more help to an ambitious politician than far-sighted policies. Scored for four voices that shift between driven, prose-poetic monologues and treacherous conversation, Gary Owen's new play, The Drowned World, offers an intriguing apocalyptic vision of a society that's even more obsessed with the skin-deep and is like an extreme photographic negative of our own. Here, in a surveillance state where people are classified as "citizens" and "non-citizens", it's the ugly who are in control and the beautiful who are on the run from brutal policies involving quarantine round-ups and rendering factories.

Vicky Featherstone directs this Paines Plough production with a strong feel for the stylised abstract geometry of a piece in which a good-looking young couple (Josephine Butler and Theo Fraser Steele) are forced into risky hiding with Darren, a reclusive, unlovely citizen (Neil McKinven) who nurses a diseased fixation for his female guest.

The contradictory forces of hatred for the Other and the desire to possess it are exposed, in all their self-defeating and self-despising meanness, through a story that sees Darren bartering away the girl's beauty (her hair, her gold-filled teeth) to a fetishistically covetous, blackmailing quarantine officer (Eileen Walsh).

Developed with Graeae, Britain's leading theatre company for people with physical impairments, The Drowned World reverses the conventional pattern of prejudice in a vivid and valuably resensitising exercise in defamiliarisation
reviewer:
Paul Taylor (The Independent)
shocking odyssey to the darkest depths of sexuality
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
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Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August-06-02
With The Shadow of a Boy, Welsh playwright Gary Owen provided one of the stinkers of the National Theatre's Transformation season. He is in far stronger form in The Drowned World, a paranoid fantasy for the Paines Plough company that nags away in the memory like a bad dream.

In a dystopian future, the plain and the ugly have turned on the beautiful and the radiant. If you are attractive, you are regarded as a non-citizen, rounded up and exterminated, though it is a policy doomed to depopulate the world. The citizens with their "ruined skin and rotten teeth" cannot bear the thought of having sex with each other, and lust only after those they despise, fear and kill.

Owen's satire on body fascism, which reverses the sad, familiar truth that in real life, the beautiful have it far easier than the ugly, is developed with dramatic urgency and ingenuity, though he has an unfortunate tendency to overwrite. Vicky Featherstone's disturbing production is strongly performed, and at last I begin to understand why Owen is so hotly tipped a writer.`
reviewer:
Charles Spence (The Daily Telegraph)
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
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Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August-06-02
All is not what it initially seems in The Drowned World. The four characters have very different agendas and their lives will soon intertwine.

The madman with the Scottish accent dressed in a holed vest and pyjama trousers could as easily be hero as villain, as could the innocent looking Irish-accented woman. It seems hard to believe that the sweet couple canoodling on the square of manicured lawn can be anything but carefree young lovers.

Within a seemingly very peaceful set, designed by Neil Warmington and containing a flower-filled aquarium, the lawn with bunny rabbits and flowers, a drama of horrific proportions is played out.

The couple have the contagious radiance sickness and are pariahs. They glow, possibly as a result of some nuclear event. They are enemies of the state and the allegory could as easily relate to the Jews in Nazi Germany as to an uncertain science fictional future. The sick are hunted down and killed prior to the rendering down of their bodies.

The couple have finally been identified and flee. The madman is waiting for an angel to visit and believes that the woman, Tara, has come to bless him in every way that he can imagine. The small nondescript Kelly is a soldier whose job it is to hunt down sufferers from the radiance.

This is a very uncomfortable play reminiscent of Wallace Shawn's The Fever and Orwell's 1984 in its depiction of a totalitarian state where logic and humanity have ceased to apply. All that is left is pride and nobility.

The acting, especially from Neil McKinven as the man who shelters but will sell victims and from Josephine Butler as the putative angel, is good under the strong direction of Paines Plough's Vicky Featherstone. She makes very full use of the claustrophobically small space which traps all of the characters.

This is a terrifying vision of a possible future and all who see it will be persuaded to ensure that it can never come about.
reviewer:
Philip Fisher (British Theatre web site)
The Drowned World by Gary Owen
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Chapter, Cardiff
September-23-11
It was a brave decision of F.A.B. Theatre’s Artistic Director, to stage this, one of many award winning Gary Owen plays. It won a Fringe First and was joint winner of Pearson Best Play award at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2002 in a production by Paines Plough. The Scotsman described it as “a flawless production.”

If Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco was the playwright’s Hamlet this play must be his Macbeth with its bloody images and one character craving the eyes of another. Are they all already drowned? Are we being invited to share in their desperate dreams? The writing is poetic with many telling images and allegories. The director has wisely decided to give the play the simplest setting and let the words breathe through the clearly drawn characters. The older couple Tara and Julian seem, for no very good reason, but there never is, to be alienated from the ‘citizens’ and are continually threatened with elimination by them.

Brendan Charleston plays Julian with a great warmth and dignity and provides a strong shield for Valmai Jones’ Tara, she portrays the very frightened woman with great clarity. The two ‘citizens’ are John Norton, Darren and Katy Owen, Kelly. Norton does a fine job as the down to earth everyman figure, though he is continually looking for a guardian angel. The energetic ball of charisma that is Katy Owen in some ways fulfils this role for him, though her main task seems to be a wide-eyed elimination of everyone who is not part of her clan.

Far back on a dimly lit stage each character sits on top of a shining aluminium ladder with the bare stage in front of them. That same bareness floats over us and draws us into the story. There is a narrative that drives the play forward but it is not the essential part of the performance. The play explores conflict and dictatorship but offers us no promising way out.

It is the bloody and tearing images that stay in the mind, the knife that Tara inexplicably drives into Julian and the graphic and strong poetic description of the wound. The ever present threat of people setting people on fire; everyone is lost in this beautifully drawn picture of madness and the failings of human nature. The atmosphere holds the eye and captivates the mind.

Following on from its production of Ian Rowlands ‘Blink’ it looks as if we can continue to expect strong and challenging drama from F. A. B. Theatre
reviewer:
Michael Kelligan

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