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'Sea Wall' by Simon Stephens

Presented by BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS AND QUIET THINGS CREATIVE IN ASSOCIATION WITH ONE FOUR ONE COLLECTIVE, and now onstage at Toronto's Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen Street West

Cass Van Wyck. Pictured: Jamie Cavanagh as Alex

Joe Szekeres

Jamie Cavanagh’s naturalistic storytelling makes ‘Sea Wall’ an engrossing piece of theatre.

Now onstage at the Assembly Theatre, Simon Stephens’ ‘Sea Wall’ becomes an engrossing piece of theatre that left me bereft of emotion for a few moments at the end of the show.

Belinda Cornish directs the one-act monologue with confident precision to ensure a naturalism that remains intact throughout the approximately 45-minute running time. Jamie Cavanagh is Alex, a photographer. He enters from the back of the auditorium at the top of the show and walks down the aisle to the stage. He looks at some of the props placed there. Even though he says nothing for a few minutes, something magnetic about Cavanagh’s presence draws attention to him.

Alex is an inquisitive man. The question of Christian religion and faith belief figures prominently in the early sections of the monologue. Alex is uncertain of the presence of a religious figurehead but enjoys thinking about the topic and discussing it with others. He likes swimming and the opportunity to be at peace in the water. Alex wonders if a religious figurehead exists; he considers perhaps he might have experienced a connection while swimming.

As his monologue continues, we learn Alex is deeply in love with his wife, Helen, and the two of them are overjoyed at the birth of their daughter, Lucy. We also learn Helen’s father, a retired British general, lives in the south of France by the water. Life is good for Alex, Helen, and Lucy. When she is eight, Alex and Helen take their daughter to the French seaside for a holiday at the request of Helen’s father. Alex likes his father-in-law and enjoys learning more about him while spending quality time with Helen and Lucy.

While on holiday, Alex has a most interesting conversation with his father-in-law about a seawall near his home. Alex learns that this seawall is a mighty thing. According to his father-in-law, it doesn’t just drop a few meters but hundreds of feet. There is an incredible suffocating blackness at this seawall. This seawall becomes a metaphor for how things can change so quickly in life.

The auditorium’s house lights do not dim for the 45-minute running time, which is an integral part of the staging. It’s a good choice because ‘Alex’ can make direct eye contact with each audience member. I noticed he had made eye contact with me a few times. At one point, Cavanagh (as Alex) asks a question and looks directly at an audience member sitting in front. She nodded in response that she wanted to know the answer to his question. (I won’t state the question because that’s part of why you must see the show.)

Jamie Cavanagh’s nuanced and realistic performance is the highlight of the production. His thick British accent makes me pay careful attention. It all feels believable as he moves around the stage with purpose, reason, and intent. It’s as if he speaks directly to me, and I forget the other audience members sitting around. Cavanagh instinctively knows when to pause for a quick laugh from the audience or when something needs to be highlighted. During these carefully timed dramatic pauses, I am inching forward in my chair because I’m on every word. I don’t want to write any notes in my book about the production because I don’t want to miss anything.

‘Sea Wall’ is a theatrical treat you owe yourselves. Please go and see it.

Running time: approximately 50 minutes with no intermission.

‘Sea Wall’ runs until Sunday, October 8, at the Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen Street West, Toronto. For tickets, visit

‘Sea Wall’ by Simon Stephens

Directed by Belinda Cornish
Performer: Jamie Cavanagh

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