Fear of Drowning, PRW Jenkins, Black Sheep Theatre Company, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

April 23, 2016 by

On the surface Fear of Drowning ticks all the right boxes in terms of staging, set, comedy, and acting. However, for some reason I am left wondering what was it all for? What new information or perspective are we getting?

The play opens with a watery themed projection and sound-scape (Matthew Wright). The audience is looking straight on into a hotel room with animated images of what looks to be a swimming pool imposed onto the back wall. The TV screen mounted at the back displays distorted images of someone being water boarded – something that is repeated offstage later in the play.

This dissipates and the action begins with Elli (Sarah Jayne Hopkins) and Tim (Kieron Self) arriving excitedly at the hotel room, she in a wedding dress and him in a morning suit. The play takes a while to establish itself with weak comic moments, textually speaking, slowing the pace. However, the tempo picks up once we know the situation we are in. Elli, it turns out, has left her husband to be at the altar and Tim, her brother, has aided her escape.


 Keiron Self, Lee Mengo, Michael  Humphreys

 Michael Humphreys, Lee Mengo

Sarah Jayne Hopkins, Michael Humphreys

Lee Mengo, Michael Humphreys, Keiron  Self

Tim, an underpaid academic, is obsessed with lowering his and other people’s carbon footprint. When Elli leaves to visit an ex, Tim is joined by the would-be groom, Steve (Michael Humphreys) and his best man, Deano (Lee Mengo). This is where the action starts to pick up and the more comic moments of the script start shining through.

As the events unfold we see Tim go through a world of emotions from fear, to anger, to resignation to the situation he finds himself in. Kieron Self plays the part well, although his energy starts as high as it finishes giving him not much room to progress into the more highly-strung moments of the play. If the beginning wasn’t as over-egged I feel the pacing and unity of the performance would fall into place nicely.

Matthew Humphreys’ Steve is convincing and bounces off Tim and Deano quite well. Humphreys playing of the power Steve has over the other characters is suitably understated and affective. He commands the stage with his presence and sheer size; a quality that has been used well by the director (Ryan Romain).

Sarah Jayne Hopkins’ portrayal as Elli works better in the more climatic final scenes than in the slow beginning of the play. She works well with Humphreys here to convince of the relationship they have. It comes across as quite believable and conflicted.

Lee Mengo as Deano particularly impresses throughout as the ‘chavvy’ best mate and employee of the groom. As his Ketamine fuelled world takes the narrative into the fantastical, the script starts to open up – this is where the play works best. Jenkins well written surrealist text jars wonderfully with the common domestic situation we find ourselves watching.

As I alluded to earlier the director, Ryan Romain, appears to have done most things right but I am left feeling that the play text lacks the punch it wants to have. The apparent ‘message’ is an old one that Al Gore has been telling us for years.  Where it does work is in its dealing with the surreal and its relationship with the real but it doesn’t need the carbon footprint context.

Until April 23


Main image: Fear of Drowning – Keiron Self, Sarah Jayne Hopkins


Photography: Kirsten McTernan

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