“Wreckage” Review: A powerful, honest exploration of love after loss

Writer Tom Ratcliffe explores the evolution of a relationship even after its end in this hugely emotional play


Copyright: Harlow Playhouse

From the moment audiences take their seats at The Turbine Theatre, there is a sense of unease. Despite the hanging vines that adorn the space, an ominous projection of a submerged, rusty car fills the back of the stage, which itself is adorned with motifs of shattered glass. Wreckage, it appears, is as much literal as it is metaphorical. The start of proceedings do little to dispel this sense of impending doom, with a title that reads “20 minutes before”.

Originally commissioned by Harlow Playhouse and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, Wreckage details the relationship between Sam (Tom Ratcliffe) and Noel (Michael Walters). Through a narrative that rapidly switches between time periods and situations both real and merely imagined, the audience develop a picture of Sam and Noel’s dynamic as a couple before they are wrenched apart by an irreversible separation.

Throughout the show, we see the inner workings of Sam’s mind as he attempts to gain closure after his and Noel’s relationship, during which he conjures an image of Noel up in his head. Though the narrative ricochets from time period to time period this always feels coherent and helps the audience to understand Sam’s viewpoint successfully. This also allows us to see many facets of Sam and Noel’s relationship, not merely a rose-tinted version.

This frenzied barrage of memory builds to a fever pitch towards the end of the one-act performance as Sam is confronted by the finality of the end of this stage of his and Noel’s relationship and prepares to move forwards with his new boyfriend, Christian (also played by Michael Walters). During this section, Walters switches between Christian and an angry Noel within Sam’s imagination, taking Sam to task for moving on.

The writing of Wreckage is searingly truthful and beautiful, and is one of the messiest and realist portrayals of the grieving process on stage. There’s a pleasant balance between light and dark, such that, even though the material itself is quite heavy and serious, audiences are not overladen by trauma.

The chemistry between the leads is glorious to behold and they definitely had an incredibly believable dynamic as a couple. The flirtatious banter at the beginning of their relationship was surprisingly touching, and there was also a brilliant way that the pair bounced off each other even in the tensest moments. Tom Ratcliffe has a natural charm and likability and the wit in the script really came across. Where the performances really sang were the quiet, tender moments – where it felt as if more was left unsaid than was actually being verbalised. Both performers really captured that sense of subtle, buried feelings here and these parts actually ended up being more emotionally affecting than the more obviously emotional parts. The ending was also particularly moving and stunningly simple.

What was less successful where the outbursts of emotion. Though these felt very honest and truthful in so far as the writing goes, the performances didn’t truly match up. It felt as if these emotions weren’t fully permitted space to breathe and percolate, which left these outbursts feeling poorly motivated instead of genuine and grounded. As I say, this is not a fault of the writing as these moments definitely made sense, but I do wonder whether directorially there could have been more of a pause to exist within that feeling. Additionally, while Walters’ switches between Christian and Noel towards the end were impressive, his accent adjustments were not always well achieved which became a little distracting. Having said this, having the same actor portray both of Sam’s love interests is a brilliant creative choice (whether by director Rikki Beadle-Blair or writer Tom Ratcliffe, or otherwise), which truly demonstrates the extent to which Noel affects and impacts Sam’s life even subconsciously in the years following their relationship’s end.

The character journey that Sam undergoes is beautifully paced and charted throughout the show, traversing the crests and falls of his grief. Though this is wonderfully done, a case could also be made for a scenario more akin to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’, in which Noel’s imaginary status gradually comes to light instead of being obvious from the beginning, which might pack a different sort of emotional heft. Having said that, the way that it is currently structured is very affecting too.

Ultimately, Wreckage is a tremendously moving tale of the evolution of a relationship even after its end. It is a complex and honest story that is well achieved and ably performed.

★★★★

Wreckage is playing at the Turbine Theatre until 22nd January 2023. Tickets and more information can be found here.

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