Inspired by real events, Jonathon Crewe’s Under The Radar is a dark two-hander addressing themes of gender, unconscious bias, privilege and misogyny. Up and coming journalist Lee Stilling (Eleanor Hill) is thrilled to score an exclusive interview with inventor Martin Christensen (Nicholas Anscombe) and sets out to join him, alone, on the 43-hour maiden voyage of his private submarine. But once the doors are closed and the alcohol begins to flow, events take an uncomfortable turn (anyone familiar with the facts of the case that inspired the play – that of Kim Wall and Peter Madsen – will have some inkling where we’re headed).
Writer and director Jonathon Crewe has said that his intended audience for the play is primarily men, to help them see and understand how small unintended acts of misogyny can quickly escalate. That’s both fair and commendable, although in this story it feels like events spiral so quickly that there’s very little time for anyone to process the danger. Much of Act 1 is taken up by the two characters getting to know each other, discussing their complicated relationships with their fathers and how those relationships have brought them to where they are. There’s a lot of good material in this lengthy scene, particularly in Lee’s self-awareness regarding her own privilege – and Eleanor Hill and Nicholas Anscombe have genuine chemistry as the pair begin to get closer, in every sense of the word. However with the exception of Martin’s constant topping up of Lee’s glass, there’s little real sense of threat beyond a couple of inappropriate jokes and some over-enthusiastic dancing. Even the submarine setting doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as expected, given that most of the action just takes place on a sofa, and the only real indication that the characters are on a boat comes from the sonar sound effects during the scene changes.
Act 2, in contrast, throws us straight into the action – but whereas Act 1 seemed to be striving to give both characters equal stage time, Act 2 is all about Martin, while Lee’s voice is silenced just as the character and gender dynamics are starting to get interesting. And then the play takes another, far more surreal turn into black comedy, before ending rather suddenly, leaving the audience unsettled and unsure how to respond.
All this, combined with long scene changes which take place out of sight behind a curtain, makes for a somewhat disjointed experience, but the actors do well with the material; Eleanor Hill’s Lee is delightfully expressive and has all the insightful journalist mannerisms down perfectly, while Nicholas Anscombe is charming and likeable as Martin, making the play’s later events all the more shocking. And here the play does make an important point: that a man who seems harmless can very quickly become the opposite, especially when there’s nobody else around to see or stop him.
There’s a lot of interesting subject matter in this play, and it has the potential to really make audiences – of all genders – stop and consider their own behaviour and that of their friends. It’s certainly an uncomfortable watch, but issues with the pacing of the story and the imbalance of voices rather dilute the message it’s trying to get across. Nevertheless, a timely production with lots to think about.
Under The Radar continues at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 2nd April.