Seal Boy takes an abstract look at the fears and joys of first-time motherhood, raising a child who might not be what you expected. Terrified of creating a man who might be predator, or perhaps prey, Meg does everything she can to raise her child (her "little seal") in the best way possible, from baby to man; together, they navigate judgement, family dynamics, and a host of different parenting methods without any right answer. 

This concept is fascinating and relevant at a time when we are overloaded with streams of conflicting information (all unwaveringly definite) from all directions, not to mention the very recent discussion over whether man or bear is better company in the woods. However, it does not feel as though it is showcased to its full potential in this production. The seal metaphor starts well, but unravels into something that leaves too many questions without clarity. The supposedly touching moment where Seal Boy removes his seal head raises questions about whether he was not himself previously and what that means, not to mention the fact that it seems to push the message of this man needing a woman to save him (first his mother, then Penguin Girl) which feels a little dated. 

Ken Weitzman's script reads as an interesting absurdist piece, but it does not appear that the text has been directed especially thoughtfully with a few notable exceptions - for instance, the way Oliver Sublet's Seal Boy communicates deep emotion and complex thought solely through mimicked words and phrases is astonishing. However, in particular, many of the comic beats of the script fall short and it is unclear if this is due to poor writing or ineffective execution. The warm heart of this play feels like it is present in its words, but whether it makes it to the stage is patchy at best. Some editing, too, could have sharpened the impact of the piece as a whole, though it is fair to say it rarely drags. 

Every member of this cast brings great talent and commits 100% to their roles. Sublet's physicality as the titular character is excellent; Perry Moore brings exceptionally magnetic charisma as Darrin, folding into a more nuanced parental warmth as the play develops; and Noa Nikita Bleeker and Will Taylor deliver some fabulous characters in their ensemble tracks. It is Sophia Borkenhagen who is perhaps the most captivating performance in her role as Penguin Girl - she embraces the blend of realism and absurdism in her lines and brings truth to interesting and complex characterisation.

The minimal set is used well, and the series of wardrobes across the back of the stage for slick exits and entrances is generally effective, if a little confusing as to why they are there. Marc Heimenidinger's lighting and Stamatis Seraphim's sound are works of beauty that underpin the dreamscape feel of the piece brilliantly. 

An important story to tell, but in need of a little refinement, Seal Boy runs at Riverside Studios until 1st June. 

Review: Penny Lane