Wastwater

Wed 30th July – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Xavier Greenwood

at 02:41 on 5th Aug 2014

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‘Wastwater’, set on the fringes of Heathrow Airport, consists of a triptych of scenes, which – in the dying summer evening of 23rd June 2011 – give snapshots of the unsettling underbelly of contemporary society. Intense, voyeuristic and interminably bleak, ‘Wastwater’ is named after the deepest lake in Britain, but it must be questioned whether the show, despite its resonant despondency, explores beyond its banks.

The audience are seated and standing around the room; a projection of the play’s surroundings is beamed onto the walls; the noise of jet engines moans overhead; the doors are shut; the scene begins. Between each tableau, the audience are escorted from one room to the next via a middle space in which they are ordered to walk along the yellow tape on the floor. There is no question as to whether the play immerses us: with an unnervingly small distance between the audience and the characters we are too close to turn our eyes away, and indeed this is made impossible by the grim scenes before us.

Each scene contains a new couple, including a foster mother, a police officer and two teachers – alongside these characters in their respected professions are themes which include heroin addiction, torture, and child abuse. The close of each scene ends in medias res, leaving an unnerving residue of obliqueness. It is truly comfortless viewing.

This unceasing pessimism is only amplified by the actors, who perform with manifest intensity; the sinews of deformation which have worn away each character to their brittle selves are made minutely visible by the complete absorption of the actors within their respective roles. The show intensifies as the scene moves from garden to hotel room to warehouse. The acting intensifies too, particularly on the female side; we end with the terrifying megalomaniac Sian (Bryony Davies), who has a penchant for torture.

It is clear that the play succeeds in its goal of depicting the darkest recesses of 21st century society, but, one must only ask, to what end? Whilst it seems to be missing the point to criticise the performance for its lack of plot, it is difficult to identify what is the actual point. Amid the emotional dismemberment of the characters, no mutual tipping point, from which any kind of message can be extracted, can be identified.

Nevertheless, though ‘Wastwater’ does not contain enough depth of meaning to be a five-star production, it is a truly memorable show, which powerfully evokes the hidden nadirs of humanity.

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Henry Holmes

at 09:45 on 5th Aug 2014

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It’s very telling of this show that it took a lot of thought to work out how I’d even go about reviewing it. There is very little plot to speak of; it’s largely a character study of the three pairs of characters: a young man about to leave the home of his foster mother with whom he has a dark relationship; two lovers in a hotel room pushing their sexual boundaries; and a desperate man under intense psychological inquisition from a seemingly amoral young woman.

The staging is enclosed and involved for all three as the audience is ushered from one room to the next between each scene. This has the result of making the piece seem much more voyeuristic than the traditional theatre experience, in line with the general mood of the piece.

There are subtle connections between the three scenes via the characters, the themes and motifs. For example, we see the two foster siblings both checking their phone and ignoring their real-life conversation partner. It’s these minor details that keep the audience on edge, and get us thinking about power, taboos and family throughout the piece.

The acting is strong all round, especially by the women (Maria Hildebrand, Juliet Clark and Bryony Davies). The direction is also noteworthy, being done unconventionally as each of the three scenes was directed by an actor from the different scene.This idea comes from the non-hierarchal structure of production company The Human Animal and leads to a very effective and interesting feel to the production as a whole. Even between scenes the atmosphere was maintained as we were herded through the claustrophobic intermediary segments.

A lot of the strength of the performance comes from our ignorance and unease. As each scene progresses we constantly gain new perspectives on the twisted goings-on in each character’s psyche. Just like the eponymous lake, we see that still waters run deep and dark. The presence of technology seems alien due to the otherwise universality of the story; it’s always an interruption or a distortion of reality.

The themes of alienation, pain and broken relationships all come together in the dark direction and design to create a twisted and unsettling vision of life in isolated pockets of England, each overshadowed by the monolith of Heathrow Airport. Each scene shows us a bruised, unwelcome part of society that draws us in and also terrifies us, most likely because of the reflections of our own faults that we see in each troubled character.

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