Martin Sherman’s beautifully thoughtful and poignant examination of relationships through the eyes of two different generations is mesmerising from start to finish.
Making its UK debut, this remarkably tender and perceptive play from Martin Sherman has plenty to keep the audience thoroughly engaged throughout as the two central characters Beau and Rufus find their way through their relationship.
Set in a cosy but modern apartment, Gently Down the Stream focuses in particular on Beau as he struggles to adapt to a relationship that initially he wasn’t sure he wanted, while capturing Rufus’s own insecurities due to his bipolar condition. The audience witnesses their highs and lows as they both discover things that they never realised they wanted is perhaps exactly what they need – despite telling each other this on numerous occasions.
What makes this such a beautiful play and story to watch unfold is the way in which Sherman gently and affectionately highlights each character’s vulnerabilities. This can be seen through either Beau reflecting on past relationships that are being recorded by Rufus as a memoir or when each character hits upon an unexpectedly powerful realisation about their relationship – such as a marriage proposal going wrong. There are times when it feels as though the play tries to explore too many issues at once but this is a minor complaint.
Gently Down the Stream is brought vividly to life thanks to Sean Mathias, who has created a production that smart and sensitive, highlighting each key moment in the play to mesmerising effect. In particular, when Beau is discussing his relationship with George, the audience gets a real sense of Beau’s reluctance to be in a relationship because of the way in which the scene has been so simply framed. Lee Newby’s set design perfectly reflects the contrast between Rufus and Beau, subtly suggesting that their differences are what make them a good match – despite Rufus finally deciding to move in a different direction.
The performances are all equally strong. In particular, Jonathan Hyde as Beau wonderfully captures the both the way in which he is fiercely independent but also his vulnerability when he realises just how much Rufus brought to his life. The moment in which he can’t break into a tub of ice cream and has no one to ask is surprisingly heartbreaking. Ben Allen as Rufus brings him to life with great energy and enthusiasm that matches his character’s attitude to life, while highlighting his lows and insecurities with great rawness. Harry Lawty as Harry is great support- offering some brilliantly timed light relief to balance the production out well.
Overall, Gently Down the Stream is a beautiful and tender love story that captures the real life vulnerabilities that exist in relationships and is thoroughly memorable from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon
Gently Down the Stream continues to play at the Park Theatre until the 16th March.