Over Here Theatre have presented a good production of Dolphins and Sharks. Unfortunately, Dolphins and Sharks is an unsatisfactory play. Each act begins with a mime of slavery to highlight the modern characters’ condition. However, the loss of freedom and inhumanity of slavery does not compare to the greatest threat in the play – losing your job. They may be exploited and underpaid, but this does not equate to slavery. The story is predictable and for a show billed as a comedy, the invitations to laugh become fewer as the playwright’s shocked indignation at society increases.
Building to a climax with unbearably loud sound volume is ok; they have established that, for unknown reasons, the copy machine has a life of its own, but having the actors cover their ears and squirm while the noise is still low highlights the artifice. Greater volume with staccato cuts to allow lines to be heard would have made the audience feel the attempted oppression. The final scene gives power to the elderly Mrs Amenze. She confronts each of the other characters, then the audience. She may be the African rights activist, but we have not invested time in her character. She did not have the authority to challenge me in the audience. How would it have changed if she had confronted the others ending with Isabel, passing her the responsibility to throw the final line at the audience? Isabel was the character we had invested in, so she was the only one who could make us question the situation.
Shyko Ammos makes Isabel the heart of the play. She may not be “the funniest woman you’ll ever meet”, but she is sassy, foul mouthed and recognisably real. Ammos shows us her soft centre under the hard carapace she has constructed. A beautifully balanced performance.
The writer could have allowed Xiomara to be the real baddie. A late phone call where she argues on behalf of her colleague reduces her power by making her position explicit instead of allowing the actor to shade and suggest. Up to that point, Rachel Handshaw delicately develops the nuances of her character’s story. Ammos and Handshaw offer a convincing relationship with a lot of laughs in the early part of the play.
Ammar Duffus gives Yusuf charming naivety bordering on the stupid. The character has an unrealistic development from innocent to betrayer to confession – the writing does not help Duffus achieve this.
Hermeilio Miquel Aquino makes Danillo a significant character though he has fewer lines or impact on the story. His spats with Xiomara show the limits to the latino brotherhood and the bonds of friendship for all these characters.
Miquel Brown has to develop Mrs Amenze from overlooked incidental to deliver the play’s final message. A difficult task which she completes well despite the fact that her speeches towards the end turn into soapbox for the history of Harlem.
How many people to do so little work? Even at end of day, give them actual files & invoices to render rather than just move blank paper & folders onto the shelves. I would have sacked 2 staff based on their activity level! Dolphins and Sharks has great aspirations, delivers some laughs and good performances but sadly the end left me cold.