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We entered through a small unsteady door, the space was immediately dark and the air was damp. I felt and heard the resounding heartbeat of the Waterloo trains above.
Ditch is certainly a surreal experience, every moment more surprising than the last right up until the final, painfully bitter moments of the play. It is performed in Tunnel 228, a once functional train tunnel beneath Waterloo station that’s been taken over by the Old Vic Theatre.
The production, which is a fusion of art and theatre, begins as an installation that you must walk through to reach your seat. Sinister clues are displayed against harsh lighting, for example a dead hare hanging above a pool of blood. It’s not clear if the haunting symbols are something intended by the playwright, Beth Steel, or if the production team decided on it themselves, either way they set the scene powerfully. Once you’ve walked through these shadowy tableaux you reach a small makeshift theatre space.
Despite the cold hostile environment, we were kept snug in our seats with cosy complimentary blankets. The play itself was relentless, set in a dystopian future. We watch a group of “fascist strongmen” whose purpose is to catch the illegals they find on the moors. They are tended to by two women, powerless and lost within a world of aggressive men.
The narrative of Beth Steel’s play is a little confusing at the start but the cast’s flawless acting is convincing enough to carry one along. The six characters loosely pair up – the lovers, the friends, the elders. Their prospects are bleak, and yet through the whiskey-fuelled action there are moments of hope amongst the despair and eventual doom. A glimpse of romance adds a little compassion to the story and allows the audience to sympathise. The juxtaposition of these tender feelings against the harsh reality of this dwindling civilisation is engaging and Richard Twyman’s direction emphasises this further.
Of the six actors, Dearbhla Molloy, who played Mrs Peel, was most impressive. Her gritty depiction of this older woman was consistently moving despite the brutal nature of the part. Throughout the show the sound effects blend with the disturbing rumbling trains above, a constant reminder of one’s location.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the play (Beth Steel’s first) and the atmospheric environment. With £12 ticket offers about there is no reason to miss out on this otherworldly experience.