“You’re more ready to believe a parent who has never set foot at the pool and the words of a five-year-old girl…”
Archimedes’ principle posits that “any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object” but Catalan playwright Josep Maria Miró i Coromina’s Archimedes’ Principle, receiving a UK premiere at the Park Theatre, explores what happens when the reciprocal force overwhelms the original. At a local swimming baths, an accusation about one of the coaches is made by a child. Parents are already on edge due to a recent incident at a nearby youth centre and in this day and age of unabating coverage of paedophilia cases and the instantly mobilising forces of social media, the situation rapidly deteriorates into bedlam.
But rather than present us with a play about sexual abuse, Miró explores something much more fascinating about the nature of truth and the way that even the most pernicious of accusations can insinuate their way into rational minds. We get the child’s version of events, we get to hear young coach Brandon’s explanation of what happened, but the playwright doesn’t come down on one side or the other. Instead we jump around in time, playing and replaying scenes which take on different meanings once an alternative position has been expressed. Thus we see how the reaction to even just the merest hint of paedophilia is just as dangerous, if not more, than the thing itself.
It’s a canny choice to cast so virile an actor as Lee Knight in the role of Brandon, light years away from stereotypical images of perverts and also playing up to the idea of being hidden in plain sight. And Knight delivers a strong performance full of ambiguities, constantly wrong-footing us as to the likelihood of his guilt and conveying a little of the abject terror of feeling a world turning entirely against you, with no-one believing a word you say. Kathryn Worth as Anna, the centre manager trying to sort this unholy mess whilst dealing with her own demons, has a quavering hesitation akin to the audience’s, remembering more innocent times but acutely aware that they have long passed.
Marta Noguera-Cuevas’ production is certainly on the right track but it did occasionally feel that it would benefit from some crisper edges. The shifts in time are fuzzy rather than sharply delineated, and the tone constantly wavers on the edge of naturalism where perhaps a bolder move into a more metaphysical frame of mind might have better suited the essential uncertainties of the piece (and removed any doubts about the safeguarding policies at the baths). Matt Bradley-Robinson could settle into the role of friend Matt a little more too, playing up the intensity rather than the volume of his adulation for his best buff friend and the crash of the later disappointment.
Small cavils aside though, Archimedes’ Principle is an interesting piece of European drama that speaks strongly of the society that we have become.