Watertight production filters the personal through the political
The internationally touring play Water looks at life through very familiar political and environmental eyes. Linda Beattie reviews.
Plays are rarely celebrated for having a rather average script, but that’s exactly what experienced theatre-goer, Warwick Clarke, insists makes the play Water stand out. “Very good acting brought a mediocre script to life along with effective dramatic use of sound, light and shadow,” he said.
There are other good reasons to see this production of Water before it leaves its Sydney stage and moves on to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York. Most importantly because this is storytelling on stage in the tradition of Strindberg (a single chair can function as a set) and Pinter (an audience doesn’t have to know where a character is going or even where they’ve been). Water is a visual and sonic narrative from two of Britain’s leading theatre companies, Filter and Lyric Hammersmith, directed by David Farr, Associate-Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Compelling performances from all three founding members of Filter’s Theatre Company Oliver Dimsdale, Ferdy Roberts and Poppy Miller is another reason to see this scintillating work. With mercurial speed and precision, aided by on-stage sound and light technicians, (Tim Phillips and Jon Bausor) the trio metamorphose into multiple roles, moving through time and space to each pick up interwoven strands of the storyline.
Water — liquid solid and gaseous — is the symbolic lynchpin of the play’s thematic field; all other personal and political issues: humankind’s inability to connect with each other let alone reach agreement at a political level are filtered through the molecular structure of H2O.
The narrative begins with Peter Johnson’s (Ferdy Roberts) 1981 Canadian lecture about the unique properties of water, “Most molecules work through repulsion; but not water. Water is a sociable molecule, it loves to mingle.”
His lecture centres on the importance of water to sustain humankind, he ends it with a warning about the catastrophic consequences if governments fail to agree to manage the global environment, saying, “The waters are already rising.” A dangerous idea for 1981 and one that the corporate world will seek to contain. He is offered a position as Professor of Marine Biology at a local university complete with an attractive financial package on the condition that he curbs his more radical views.
So begins Peter’s personal struggle between scientific integrity and the prospect of a secure lifestyle. With echoes of Pinter’s Betrayal, the struggle is emblematically played out during a squash game (again by the visual effects of light and sound) between Peter and the university’s Machiavellian corporate donor (Oliver Dimsdale). He who wins the game will henceforth call the shots!
Poppy Miller gives a finely calibrated performance in her major dual roles: hard-nosed human resources manager seeking to compromise Peter’s son, Graham, (Ferdy Roberts). As Claudia, she is an idealistic political aide, labouring to bring opposing governments to agreement at Kyoto, while, at a personal level, she is unable to agree to commit to her boyfriend (Oliver Dimsdale). An unexpected pregnancy becomes the catalyst for reaching out to him but he has given up on their relationship and taken himself off to compete in the record for deep-sea diving. The motif is clear: on both a personal and political level reach agreement to commit before it’s too late.
The day after the opening night performance, Ferdy Roberts told Reportage Online that Water is not a political work about climate change but a story about how human beings often fail to reach agreement on a interpersonal level. “We are constantly updating the political material even though the political stance hasn’t changed since 2007, at the Berlin Summit we find that we are still making agreements to make agreements,” said Mr Roberts.
After the show, the opening night audience were enthusiastically mingling like water molecules in agreement; playwright Bob Ellis and writer Anne Brooksbank were overheard proclaiming that Water was “the best three-hander they had ever seen.” There were, however, others who found it more challenging. Regular theatre-goer Gabrielle O Donnell, said, “This was a thoughtful production that probably tried to do too much, an enjoyable night at the theatre if not an easy one.”
Water closes on the 22nd September.