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Published on Tuesday, 24 August 2010

4 stars

Zoo Southside (venue website)
6 - 30 Aug, 3:45pm (4:45pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Six men, bound together by circumstance; bound together in a metal shell, all alone on the waves.  The claustrophobic reality of the seafarer's life is stylishly captured by Bound, a character drama with a cruel twist, set almost entirely below the decks of fishing trawler the Violet.  We follow the Violet’s voyage as she fights for the fish, her crew’s livelihoods… and perhaps their very survival.

As the action starts and the vessel sails, there’s a new man joining the crew: Polish labourer Kerdzic, venturing for the first time onto the sea.  The newcomer’s arrival, it seems, has loosened a few long-held tongues, and the revelations just keep coming.  We hear of the young sailor’s hidden trauma, the old hand’s secret shame, and the skipper’s desperation – only he truly knows the dire straits (both literal and figurative) his ship is sailing in.  Age fights youth; the union man fights the incomer; the first mate, hounded by the memories of glory days gone by, often seems to be fighting himself. 

Though Kerdzic is the lynch-pin of the plot, none of the six-strong cast is pushed to the fore.  Nor are any of them left in the background; each man has his role in the play as surely as he does on the boat, and each discharges his duties well.  At times, they form a kind of chorus, all babbling at once in a debate or a quarrel.  At times, the spotlight’s thrown on just one or two of them, as we eavesdrop on the often-painful conversations taking place below the decks.

And if you don't suss out from the dialogue that there’s going to be a storm, then you've never seen a play in your life.  But the events which force the Violet into the teeth of the gale are genuinely unexpected; the dilemma its crewmen are faced with has a subtle resonance, even here on dry land.  It's the moment of crisis the whole play's been building to, and as they make their choice there's a true sense of portent, of imminent glory or imminent doom.

Trouble is though, I never quite believed any of it.  I enjoyed the detail of the script; all the characters were sensitively drawn, and avoided the obvious pitfalls of stereotype.  The dialogue, too, struck a nice balance between humour and gravitas.  But the really big plot developments never quite gelled with me; too much felt just slightly forced, just a little bit divorced from reality.  The moment that they really lost me – spoiler ahoy! – was when one of the crew members tried to rescue a man by tearing off his sea-boots and jumping into the Force 11 waves; that's not heroism, that's suicidal idiocy, and a piquant motivation can't disguise the fact that it's something a grizzled seaman would never do.

In withholding my fifth star, I feel I’m swimming against those very waves; the Scotsman, the Herald, our colleagues at ThreeWeeks and Broadway Baby… all are unstinting in their praise.  And I do see where they’re coming from; it’s an impeccable piece of ensemble acting, darkly humorous and sparingly performed.  I just can’t quite get over the credibility gap.  So who’s right?  There’s only one thing to do: go to see Bound – if you can still get a ticket – and prepare to make up your own mind.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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