The Man in the Submarine – Byre Theatre

Written by Laila Noble

Directed by Lu Kemp and Chris Stuart Wilson

Rating: 3 out of 5.

There are few things as isolating as being in a submarine, fathoms below the everyday chatter, connections, and ready availability of tea and biscuits. But to be in one alone is even more inconceivable. But for many, who live with dementia every day, the seclusion and pressure within might not feel too different: living in a world disconnected but still sharing the same space as others. Welsh playwright Laila Noble, the well-deserving winner of the Byre Theatre’s inaugural St Andrews Playwriting Award, presents The Man in The Submarine [Y Dyn yn y Llong Danfor] in association with Perth Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, and the University of St Andrews.

The significant impact of dementia, ageing populations, and the strains of the care industry remains a pertinent theme across Scottish theatre, with Ramesh Meyyappan’s Love Beyond (And Act of Remembrance) opening this week. Communicated principally in English, there’s a richness of Welsh language and humour used as a signifier of losing one’s language. Noble’s thoughtful production emerges with tremendous dynamism into the converse of the continuing discourse across the industry. A story of three characters initially thought to be separated by both location and several thousand tonnes of water, come together with a choice of surreal imagery and lighting to weave a strikingly well-thought and powerful dark comedy, which takes audiences to the bone in their understanding of distress, grief, the care sector, and their own mortality.

The drama and inner workings of The Man in the Submarine revolve around – yes, a submarine. More specifically, The Man, played by Dyfan Dwyfor, fires around the stage armed with an unusually non-salty cup of tea, given the depth and leakiness of this vessel. Located, not in the beautiful briny depths of, but in the quaint rural valleys of a Welsh village sits a submarine: rusted, full of holes, and seemingly isolated from the rest of the country despite the persistent attempts at communication from its captain and sole occupier.  

And despite his repair work and determination to maintenance to the craft and preserve his egg and cress sandwiches, the submarine eventually succumbs to the crippling pressure on the hull as Pufferfish, Anglers and Jellyfish float past the bulkhead windows as an incongruous, and persistent reminder that maybe, just maybe, not everything is as lucid as we might imagine.

Colliding a younger soul with an older self, Brendan Charleson’s William is an everyday man, one who longs for the humbleness of a solid cup of tea, and one with a stern passion for the words of William Wordsworth. His visitors chiefly being his daughter Claire, and care worker – both played by Laura Dalgleish. The authenticity and genuine emotion the pair share is touching and harrowing to watch in moments for its natural flow and unforced dialogue and pain: Charleson a charming presence, how annunciation and hold of the stage merit to Lu Kemp and Chris Stuart Wilson’s direction.

Cast a drift from the ever-present hull of Karen Tennant’s exceptional submarine set, in a delicate bubble alone, Claire does everything one would expect of a daughter from visitations, aiding in William’s memory struggles and supplying as many biscuits as possible. But not Hob-Nobs. There’s a ripple which cuts deeper, an unspoken, and now-partial eclipsed trauma which Claire and William refrain from discussing which does initially confuse audiences with Dwyfor’s role, but steadily explains the difficulties the pair have – out of discomfort, one out of ability.

Whilst the drips of plot thread together, it takes time before the story elements align for all the cast to cross over with one another. But once the metaphors align more, and the blurs of the statically Welsh-speaking radio become clear, The Man in the Submarine begins to surface and bring a breath of air to audiences.

A saudade affair, Anne Lacey’s performance is truly a force and seals the pulchritudinous nature of the entire show – much of Noble’s writing is, in truth, painful for any familiar with the complexities and difficulties of dementia but astutely grasps the additional dimensions of Lacey’s interactions with Dalgleish as William’s daughter is heart-wrenching, as she mistakes Claire for her wife, now passed, as part of a relationship the pair were never able to express. The snippet of comedy Lacey possesses, perfectly pitched and timed, cements the humanity of it all – that one flicker of light in even the darkest of moments which comes from the silliest of things – even a crumbled-up biscuit on a newly vacuumed floor.

There’s no question of the validity or deservedness of Noble’s place as the award recipient. Nor is there question surrounding The Man in the Submarine’s integrity, respect, and at times – killer sense of humour. Its metaphorical submarine, the very setting of the piece, speaks for itself and doesn’t need quite as heavily pushed into the narrative as it often is, rounding the show to the hour mark. But cleverness is self-evident, and trust in keen writing is essential. A welcome addition to the growing number of superb emerging playwrights, few could ask for a finer outing than this grimly surreal, but sincerely human, dark comedy.

A Sincerely Human, Dark Comedy

The Man in the Submarine runs at Perth Theatre until February 11th.

The show runs for one hour and five minutes without interval. Suitable for Ages 12+

Tickets for the show are on a Pay What You Decide basis (£10 – £15), which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Mihaela Bodlovic


One thought on “The Man in the Submarine – Byre Theatre

  1. Corr says:

    Great Review , normally very difficult subject! Humour is dark, but enlightened by performance of scenes, stage construction, short sharp and 70 mins is pretty damn effective message! Good luck in Perth .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s