Drenched, Third Man Theatre @ Pleasance Courtyard

DrenchedWritten by Eddie Elks and Dan Frost 
Performed by Dan Frost
Directed by Eddie Elks
1-27 August, 3pm at Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two

Daniel Drench is West Cornwall’s most prolific and unstable storyteller, an enigmatic figure with a sea-green anorak, ripped skinny jeans and an erratic onstage energy. As he takes us on a journey (‘come with me’) through Cornwall and back in time, he alternately paces the stage, cajoles and reprimands the audience, stares morosely into the middle distance, and spends long minutes sitting motionless in a spotlight as recorded voiceovers play, betraying life and performance only through mad darting eyes and heavy breath. The titular character of his tale – The Mermaid of Zennor – seems added into the story as a belated afterthought; most of the hour’s block is occupied by detailed and repetitive exposition on the character of Matty, who is depicted with an air much like autism until a sudden accident turns his life around.

The bunker space is hot and dark, the one-man show – and its performer’s vocal cadences – rather meandering and slow; I caught myself nodding off once or twice. What roused me most throughout the piece was feelings of discomfort and awkwardness when the storyteller would veer off track to shoot bitterly pointed barbs at the audience, his tech assistant, and Poldark, or to throw a sulky tantrum and declare that he won’t bother doing the ending unless his listeners put a little more effort in. I gathered that these interludes were in character as Daniel Drench – not Dan Frost – but the resulting atmosphere fell short of either a clever artistic statement or real comedy. Perhaps Frost and Elks sought in the character of Drenched to capture a sense of that spirit which inhabits all old folk tales – capricious, untamed, dual-natured, fey – but unfortunately, it all came across as simply self-indulgent and dull.

There were moments when I saw flashes of the show I’d have liked to see: when the soundscapes, lighting, set, and craggy-faced narrator evoked an atmosphere of the Cornish coast on folklore and romanticised history; when Drench as Matty danced a wild, ferocious reel to music of heartbreak; when Drench told, eyes fixed on an unseen horizon and voice soft and light as waves after a storm, of how Matty met his final destiny. But these were sadly few and far between, and I hope that before Elks and Frost open their next production, Daniel Drench will have been quietly dropped as Third Man’s third man.

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