To walk across the ocean floor from the UK to New York probably takes a little more tech than a gaffer-taped piece of hose around the waist, a cheap pair of goggles, and an GPS tracker made of card; but that’s really not the point of Helen Foster’s one-woman show The Diver, which meshes to memorable effect a childlike enthusiasm for play with the sometimes harsh realities of adult responsibility.
As the protaganist Kate, Foster breaks character and the fourth wall to draw the audience into her whimsical world from the off – and she’ll need them. The Diver is, no pun intended, quite the immersive experience. In the wrong hands, this can sometimes be a horrifying thing for an audience member, but the genuine charm and warmth of this piece saves the day, and volunteers are likely to find themselves an inadvertent prop or cameo as Kate’s journey progresses. It brings a lovely sense of shared experience to the performance – particularly during the kelp forest scene – which could reflect its wider ideas, too.
Beneath the surface, The Diver explores themes of isolation, loneliness, self-doubt and fear of inadequacy by throwing protagonist Kate literally in too deep. A lifelong overachiever, she takes on the ultimate endurance challenge – a solo underwater walk across the Atlantic, don’t think about that one too much – but the time alone forces her to confront what her life choices have really been all about. Beneath the smiles and public optimism, what is really driving her to succeed?
Physical theatre, drama, comedy, rudimentary puppetry and a script that appears to leave plenty of room for going off piste (Foster regularly performs with improv gang Impropriety) all make the ingredients of a show that bursts with imagination and revels in a refusal to be constrained by its low budget. The Diver’s storytelling is evocative of the unselfconscious games of the primary school playground, and is the richer for it.
Kate may want to be alone, but even under the sea there is company to be had; a Dory-style companion lightens the load when things become overwhelming, and even the Kraken might not be everything it seems. The Diver is something of a grown-up bedtime story, that transports the audience to a pretend – and silly – world, while exposing the doubts and fears that make us human.