Zero degrees and drifting

ZERO DEGREES AND DRIFTING ****

TRAVERSE THEATRE, EDINBURGH

IT’S partly about coastal erosion, this latest play from the Leeds-based Unlimited Theatre, stars of the Edinburgh Fringe since 1999. But if the company have set themselves the challenge of creating a show that touches on one of the most boring subjects, they’ve risen to the task with this astonishingly rich, three-stranded tone-poem about life on Britain’s ragged seaboard in the early 21st century, at the Traverse until Saturday.

In a radio ship moored somewhere along the coast, a disc jockey whose face we never see plays schlocky, evocative music, and runs a show about people who have gone missing across the country over the past 40 years. In a converted lighthouse, a young couple whose relationship is no longer new find their lives shaken by the presence of a beautiful, mute young man, washed up on the rocks nearby. And at the coastal Museum of Everything That Matters, a curator watches while Britain’s maritime and imperial heritage crumbles into the sea, room by room, collection by collection.

Co-written by Clare Duffy, Liz Margree, Jon Spooner and Unlimited’s presiding genius, Chris Thorpe, the script sometimes shades uneasily between deadly serious elegy and post-modern English absurdism, played for laughs. But this passionate piece of work also manages to touch on at least four of the key dramatic themes of our time, from environmental anxiety and the fate of strangers reaching our shores, to the erotic exhaustion of middle-class couple relationships, and the future of Englishness itself.

There are two beautiful performances from Sarah Becker and Nathan Rimell as the couple, and a wonderful, evocative junk-shop set by David Farley; and by the end, I found myself almost moved to tears by this show’s powerful vision of a great seagoing culture nearing the end of the line, and by the patience with which it builds the huge resonance of its story from the simplest beginnings and the most modest of raw materials.