The photogenic Cornish coast, the sound of the flapping sails, a father and daughter’s embittered relationship, and idyllic memories of berry-picking and gin-making… The core elements of A Recipe for Sloe Gin could effectively make up the pitch for a new [insert TV channel name] production, and the first few minutes of the play create a definite sense of déjà-vu. We meet Lucy (Georgia Theodoulou), her degree, her hopes of a graduate job in London, and her father (Keiron Self), once a fisherman, now a ruined shape left to the care of his daughter. At the start of the play, Lucy comes back to her native Cornwall to look after him.
Allan Neve chooses to tell this story through a less conventional format, as the play consists of a series of monologues in which the two protagonists never come to speak to each other. Their interactions are based on gestures and gazes. Both Theodoulou and Self bring the necessary level of emotional conviction to their roles to pull it off, and Lucy’s initial recoil at the sight of her father speaks to their fraught history together.
As the actors strive to get closer, their tirades seem to stray away from each other gradually, reflecting the characters’ frustrations with their past. In the end, we are forced to reconsider our sympathies in the light of Lucy’s final words. It’s a shame that up until this point the daughter’s storyline seems more like a foil to her father’s, with a perfunctory attempt at romance and a nemesis (a manager with a nondescript name and a nondescript suit) as boring as the hotel Lucy starts working at to pay the bills.
The play is steeped in a maritime atmosphere by Lucy’s father’s gin-soaked narrative and by the superb set, as the production takes place at the World of Boats museum. There are bottles reflecting the light and sails hanging from the ceiling, and the performance unfolds against a sunlit seascape. As decors go, it doesn’t really get more cinematic than Cardiff Bay at dusk, and this inspired choice gives the production a truly poetic touch. Matthew Holmquist’s vision undeniably magnifies the potential for lyricism of A Recipe for Sloe Gin. While the play’s portrayal of a father-daughter relationship contains genuinely moving moments, its script could really do with fewer over-used tropes.