Posts Tagged ‘Wastwater’

14/04/11

Wastwater in the Lake District is only mentioned once in this play, yet it’s hidden depths represent the emotional undercurrents that litter Simon Stephens’s new play.

Wastwater takes the form of three elliptical episodes, all showing  characters at a pivotal turning point in their life. A foster mother and her charge discuss his imminent departure in a dilapidated farmhouse, direct in the path Heathrow’s planned third runway. A man and woman meet in a hotel room, both considering a dark form of adultery, and in a deserted warehouse, a man meets with a child-trafficker to purchase a child.

The combination of Katie Mitchell and Simon Stephens proved an irresistible draw for me. I thought Mitchell’s precision and simplicity would be a perfect accompaniment to Stephens broken, often episodic style, and I was correct. Mitchell strips back the often chaotic dialogue so characters remain almost completely stationary – the simplicity and confidence of this direction allows Stephen’s dialogue to soar, and makes the play that much more compelling as a result. The title suggests that beneath the surface of these tales there is untold depths, and Stephens does not disappoint. Each tale breaks off at a moment of physical connection – we are never granted more than terse conversation about the act to follow.

The design by Lizzie Clachan’s is just fantastic, and I am still left reeling by the speed of those set changes (It still bothers me now…how in the hell did they do that?!) Each design is markedly different from the one before it, a balmly farmhouse transforms in seconds to a plush hotel room, and the abandoned warehouse is both cavernous and intimidating.

Overall, the acting is extremely good. There is an uncertain quality to each one of the exchanges, and as each exchange progresses you can’t help but feel that something isn’t quite right. Linda Bassett stands out as the foster mother who has grown a little too close to her ward, and Jo McInnes shines as one half of the couple in the hotel room. Both verbally circle and strike one another in a sort of erotic dance cum fight. It is Stephen’s writing at it’s very best, and Mcinnes certainly does it justice.

There are links between all three stories should you wish to create an overriding narrative, the Habanera from Carmen recurs, and the characters are all linked in some way or another. A teacher slapping a student, a deadly car crash, and a foster home all link the tales, but not in any significant way. There isn’t any linear story to find in these broken narratives, instead we are presented with a snapshot of life. It is heartless at times, and certainly cruel, but there is no greater exploration of the themes presented. As a result of this, some may find Wastwater unfulfilling.

Wastwater is more shocking than I expected, but never mind that, it’s a fantastic evening in the theatre – it’s hard work, and may not appeal to those who just which to sit back and let a story wash over them, but the extra effort paid to this show does pay off. Stephens writing is almost impotent in it’s presentation of key themes. We are aware of the sinister and harsh nature of this almost dystopic world, but leave feeling powerless to stop it.  Instead we must simply mull over the existential choices each character makes, and ponder how we would act when placed in the same circumstance. Would I leave? Would I do it? What would I do? I like to think I’d make the right choice…but Wastwater suggests that perhaps I wouldn’t.