CW: mentions sexual exploitation

Image from 00 Productions

There is no form of escapism quite like a venture on the ocean blue: clear skies, watercolour sunsets, and the unrestricted horizon expanding before your eyes. ‘Ocean Madness’ was no exception, with witty characters, whimsical ditties and romance round every corner. But one must remember, even the freshest coastal air is salty…

Even before the first line is uttered, jaunty yet endearing piano melodies invite you into the story about to unfold. A story in which we meet Naomi, a cruise director negotiating the complexities of family, friendship, and a successful career. It was refreshing to see the expectations of modern womanhood displayed with such sensitivity and candour. Laura Abbott’s effortless emotion and captivating vocals projected Naomi firmly into the third dimension, beyond that of the mere stereotypical Captain’s Wife.

The captain himself, portrayed by the exceptionally talented Lorcan Cudlip Cook, captured every facet of the arrogant misogynist. It is rare that a villain is presented so complexly: in Carl we see a father and a professional with everything to lose, not just the pure evil entity we are often exposed to. He was successfully humanised, and yet you still wish to throw him overboard at every turn.

Indeed, nuance was weaved through the plot largely successfully. The sexual exploitation of lounge singer Esther Mabel was handled with due sensitivity, and Sophie Elliot’s sultry performance didn’t cheapen the development of her character throughout the second Act – which I admittedly feared after her sparse appearances in Act 1. Instead, an elegant balance of focus was achieved, addressing both the hardships of the victim and those caught in the crossfire. The character of Cheryl (Sasha Harden), an eerily efficient inspector revealed to instead be a dependable ally, further subverted the stereotypes regarding how authorities respond to such allegations. I cannot help but feel, however, that certain themes could have been explored more deeply. Though Naomi’s quick decision to support Esther was reassuring, it would have been interesting to further challenge their interactions. The emotional ‘switch-flick’ we see within Naomi detracted from the depth of her character that was otherwise so sophisticatedly achieved. 

This was only exacerbated by the lack-lustre resolution, a collection of evidence against the captain that was gimmicky, and frankly, a little too reminiscent of Scooby Doo. The entire team should be rightfully applauded for exploring such sensitive themes with insight into multiple perspectives, but the negotiation of the issues faced lacked a certain finesse. 

The instigator of this plan, 53 year old Joan, was luckily far more likeable. Witty, confident, and outgoing, Joan (Francesca Carver) brought a warming aura to every scene – smile on her face and martini in hand. Her hilarious accounts of middle age and the modern man were incredibly entertaining. Almost enough to distract from the occasional disappearance or irrelevance of her orthopaedic boot…

The hardships of the adults were beautifully contrasted to those of the Captain’s son, Ellis. Bless his little cotton socks. The epitome of awkward, you cannot help but smile at his laboured attempts to win over the confident, attractive Amber (Francesca Kuczynska). Their blossoming romance was paralleled with simple yet elegant choreography, which would have uplifted the entire show if more frequently displayed.  Though it must be noted that the intensity of Ellis’ social ineptitude did allow some lines to be lost, Will Lunt’s performance was commendable, endearing and at times wildly funny.

The use of lighting and sound were appropriate throughout, maintaining fluid changes in atmosphere that guided the audience through the emotions portrayed. However, this particular ship took an achingly long time to moor. The closing musical numbers, although well written, were frankly unnecessary. The satisfaction of the ending faded with the seemingly endless conclusion. 

Overall, my voyage upon ‘Ocean Madness’ was very enjoyable, and the talents of both the actors and technical team were clearly exhibited. Although some of the themes could have been refined, it was a remarkably courageous step to tackle them in the first place. The writers should be applauded for their sophistication on tackling such a complex topic, and for blending the whimsy of Golden Age performance with modern turmoil so well.