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Friday, 15 April 2011

Wastwater at The Royal Court

Wastwater, by Simon Stephens is a curious triptych of stories, each connected by seemingly unimportant coincidences. Odd little clues are revealed throughout and gradually allow the audience a deeper understanding of the characters and their relationships, though I guarantee you will still leave baffled by the numerous unsolved questions.

Each forty minute piece shows a couple, making a life defining choice; each pair is located somewhere nearby Heathrow airport. The significance of the airport is debatable, it is a soulless place that often enables new beginnings. Its presence is eerily felt throughout with excruciatingly loud plane noises blaring dramatically over our heads.

We first meet Harry and his foster mother Frieda. She has seen many of her kids come and go but feels differently about Harry, who is a thoughtful and kind boy, albeit occasionally stubborn and troublesome. They stand together in Frieda’s garden pondering Harry's fast approaching departure and watching the planes cross overhead.

Next we see Lisa and Mark, an awkward couple who appear to be about to embark on an affair, though neither seem sure why. They are stationed in a comfortable but bland hotel room near Heathrow. Lost and lonely, they give fragments of their stories as they get to know each other.

Finally, in a damp and dingy cellar-like space, Sian and Jonathan are discussing the imminent arrival of a child he has arranged to illegally adopt/buy. This simple transaction soon reveals information about these two characters that is rather more sinister. It is an unpleasant exchange.

Of the three parts, I found the second by far the most engaging, with very strong performances from both Paul Ready (Mark) and Jo McInnes (Lisa). In the third story Sian is spine-tinglingly nasty in her enthusiastic rendition of Stephens’ dialogue, I couldn’t help but be terrified for the quivering Jonathan (Angus Wright) even if his intentions are horrific. I found the opening scene a little pointless, a dull conversation that showed little imagination, I felt sorry for Tom Sturridge (Harry) and Linda Bassett (Frieda) who take on these less exciting roles, and work with what little they have very well.

The whole cast are superb and deeply convincing, characters with little background must be challenging to convey. Each duo has a great set to work with from talented designer Lizzie Clachan. The cold stagnant sensation is conveyed by the set, miraculous considering the warm luxurious feel of this stylish theatre.

This Wastwater trio is intriguing but irritatingly ambiguous, even the choice of title seems a little too abstract (Wastwater is England’s deepest lake and is mentioned once in the play). I suppose as with many contemporary plays we, the audience, are expected to explore and assess the reasons and outcome of the drama ourselves, and each make our own judgement. Wastwater gives free rein and possibility to do this - for me the conclusions are bleak and scary.

Wastwater continues until 7 May 2011, book here.

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