Reviewed on Tuesday 24th May 2016
Christien Anholt's production of Wastwater by Simon Stephens is intense and thought provoking. The play, originally written for and performed at the Royal Court, transfers perfectly to the intimate stage of the Tabard.
Mike Leopold's set design is simple but effective. Up close and personal, the audience is witness to Stephens' superb dialogue. Executed with precision by a strong and sturdy company, the production plays with the ambiguity of the text which allows the audience to use their imagination and go beyond the surface, digging deep into the subtext.
The play is cleverly written, in places maybe a little too clever; nevertheless it forces the audience to keep up or risk missing out. The rhythm of the dialogue is poetic and the talented cast give it an everyday conversational feel. Three stories are loosely woven together by small, almost unnecessary plot and character links, each with an overriding arch exploring damaged relationships, damaging situations, and ultimately, damaged souls. It's an exploration of interpersonal relationships under the strain of modern day society.
The first story tells of a foster parent, played by Philippa Peak, struggling to come to terms with her emotional ties to her foster children. We see her trying to say goodbye to Harry, sensitively played by Scott Temple, who is about to leave her to embark on a new life in Canada. Suspense and drama hint at an unspoken, sexual attraction between the pairing, peppered with dark humorous undertones. Peak's portrayal taps into the loneliness and heartbreak of the character and her own longing for love and affection.
The middle story's dark, overtly sexual themes, are juxtaposed against comedic elements and manages to hit the hardest of the three stories. Here Stephens' writing is at its finest, dealing with issues of abuse whilst providing some of the funniest moments within the play. Lisa Gorgin's ability to switch between drama and comedy with her energetic portrayal of Lisa, brings light relief as half of an adulterous pair, meeting her younger lover Mark played by Tom Halloway, to embark on their first sexual encounter. The chemistry between the actors is the strongest of the trio of pairs.
The third and final act telling the story of a middle aged man's attempt to hold on to his failing marriage by trafficking a foster child illegally, really brings the play to a dramatic conclusion. Marie-Francois Wolff as Sian and Bryan Lawrence as Johnathan, do battle throughout this thriller of a scene, whilst again the ambiguity of the dialogue places the audience in a space of uncertainty. It's obvious from this production that the writer never intended to present a well rounded story with a final conclusion. This story open to various interpretations, including tendencies towards paedophelia.
Overall this is a well handled production of a complex, if somewhat convoluted script. The direction is clear and the performances strong, with clever and witty dialogue driving a very dark narrative. If you're a theatregoer who enjoys a resolution and all loose ends tied, then this may not be the show for you. However, the inquisitive minds amongst us will thrive from this production which allows for hours of debate once the curtain comes down.
Reviewed by Leon Lopez
Wastwater runs at the Tabard Theatre until 4th June 2016.
Please visit www.tabardweb.co.uk for further information and tickets.