Review: Salmon @ Exeter Phoenix

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

BENPhoto Credits: Eve and Sea Productions

Entering Exeter Phoenix’s Workshop, we find protagonist Angus (Josh Smith) sprawled on a mattress, surrounded by marks of decay and neglect. In his litter of crushed beer cans, empty wrappers and cigarette packets, it’s easy to see that this is a man who’s not doing well. Yet Angus is much less capable of admitting this to himself. On this journey towards acceptance, writers and directors Constance McCaig and Eva Lily have shaped a compelling narrative that bravely faces drug-culture, mental health, and the difficulties of youth, delving into these complex themes with fierce honesty and intensity.

Following his dog’s death, Angus is plunged into a mental decline, struck by grief and trapped in a mundane existence of working weekdays and weekend raves. McCaig and Lily sharply articulate Angus’ increasing disconnect from reality in fractured conversations between Angus and his loved ones. Angus and the other characters both face directly out at the audience and, while Angus attempts to explain the confusion in his head, his mother, girlfriend and father each fruitlessly try to engage with him. The writing is skilful, the simultaneous monologues slipping in and out of each other, at points just touching and then spiralling off again in different directions. It is a powerful illustration of mental illness and the difficulty of helping those suffering from it.

EDENPhoto Credits: Eve and Sea Productions

While the other characters can leave the set, Angus remains stuck, both in the physical space of his bedroom and in his head. Smith’s acting ability astounds, using his whole body to viscerally demonstrate Angus’ increasing decline, grasping his hair, scratching his arms, twitching, squinting. His anxiety overpowers the audience with discomfort. Smith’s heightening agitation feels like it bursts out onto the set and onto the other characters: previously lyrical voice-overs come to induce claustrophobia, filling the space like voices in your head; in another surreal episode, Angus’ parents take on the qualities of incessantly buzzing flies, intensifying both Angus and the audience’s unease.

The talented Eden Hastings and Ben Spring support Smith, successfully multi-roling as Angus’ mother and girlfriend, and father and policeman respectively. They manage to individually characterise each of these roles with mere seconds to shift between them. As a mother, Hastings expresses the weariness of age in her shuffling form, and as Angus’ girlfriend, Skye, she can depict tender affection for Angus coupled with frustration and hurt. Spring’s portrayal of the policeman is notable, working with McCaig and Lily’s clever writing to reveal a multi-faceted character who, while slightly irritating and naïve, also has the potential to move us.

GREENPhoto Credits: Eve and Sea Productions

On occasion, moments of plot confusion slightly let down Salmon’s quality as overlapping lines mean key elements are not given the necessary space to breathe. The salmon metaphor is also a little overused – it would be more effective if its symbolic significance was not so continually reinforced.

However, Eve and Sea Productions have undoubtedly created a convincing narrative that sweeps you along. The cast are stunning, with a simple set effectively aiding the intense atmosphere. Its previous success in London and at Edinburgh Fringe are testament to the team’s success and they are sure to continue engaging audiences in their upcoming tour.

Katrina Bennett

Featured Photo Credits: Eve and Sea Productions

 

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