Deep, Q Theatre, 25 February 2020: Theatre Review

Playwright Hayden J. Weal has attempted to combine the ocean’s depths and the patriarchy’s shaping of female sexuality into a 60-minute theatrical feast with Deep. Sarah Kidd went along to opening night and files this review.

Rebekah Poleman loves her job, her only true pleasure in life coming from working endless hours, thousands of feet below the Pacific Ocean in the pursuit of the unknown. Seemingly pushing her own needs aside, she has little in the way of anything tethering her to the human world, instead the deep dark waters offer her the internalised satisfaction she so desperately craves.

Q Vault has been transformed into an underwater paradise, the simple but pleasing use of blue tinted stage lights and streamers hanging from the ceiling created by Cole Jenkins providing the space in which the audience is introduced to Poleman played by Natasha Daniel. Wearing her atmospheric diving suit, Poleman is working outside of base submarine the Imperium while listening to two of her co-workers argue over radio coms about who ate the last of the fruit yoghurts, her frustration with such trivial matters palpable.

Suddenly Poleman is sinking, and fast, her tether broken, communications with Imperium lost, she is terrifyingly descending thousands of feet by the minute, the scene itself played out with the use of a miniature puppet version of the protagonist operated by a cast of very talented puppeteers. Lost and alone, with only an hour’s oxygen left to go, the ADS suit, voiced by Jen Huang giving periodic updates on just how far away from her untimely demise she is, Poleman begins to drift.

And here is where the Deep becomes a little odd.

Through conversations held with several underwater creatures including a blob fish, viper fish and several anglerfish – all puppets of wonderfully clever design thanks to Chye-Ling Huang – the audience are shown that Deep is both an adventure story and a conversation about female sexuality, the emphasis placed on Poleman’s relationship with her own; side notes about Toxic Masculinity and having a strong support network of fellow women woven into the script.

Visually this makes for fascinating viewing; the puppets are gorgeous and add a special element to the production, and while their actual characters are a little cliché (Dory anyone?) their inclusion is welcomed by all in attendance. One by one they each interact with Poleman, the feminine characters assisting in her attempt to get back to the submarine, the viper fish however embodying the aforementioned toxic masculinity with his questions about Poleman’s sex life and comments about her smiling just a little bit more. As the viper fish leaves her stranded his parting insult of her being a prude echoes in her ears.

Things then only get a little stranger as Poleman experiences an orgasm thanks to a cloud of pink bioluminescence and is told of an underwater Atlantis where many more orgasms can be experienced, the only catch being that she will have to live there alone with no companionship from either fish or human. Poleman riding the high of euphoria she had yet – up until a few moments ago – to experience in her life, is certainly tempted but ultimately decides to be kinder to herself and attempt to reconnect with humanity, the miraculous return of her back-up oxygen tank facilitating her journey back to the Imperium.

While writer Hayden J. Weal has attempted to combine his two interests of deep ocean and Western patriarchy’s shaping of women’s sexuality into a sixty minute slightly leftfield but visually stimulating theatre production, the idea doesn’t quite hit the mark.

This is in no way a reflection on Natasha Daniel or the puppets and puppeteers, each character played well, each design crafted with love and care. The parts just don’t fit together well enough to present something cohesive, especially when examining topics that require both methodical and insightful unpacking to truly examine what lies at their core.

Deep tries to take its audience on an exploratory journey of empowerment, however it fails to provide the right vehicle in which to do so.

~Sarah Kidd

Deep is playing at Q Theatre, Auckland through 1 March. For more information and ticket sales, please go HERE.