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4-star Wastwater at The Tabard Theatre – Review

WastwaterWastwater‘s first revival since its premier at the Royal Court Theatre in 2011 takes place at the Tabard Theatre, and it’s a feast for many fans of its crafty writer, Simon Stephens. The award-winning playwright of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, paints three harrowing episodes of people in crisis, all stationed by an airport and, somehow, related to one another. References to water, and the shadows of Wastwater – a lake in the Western part of the Lake District – is another sharp imagery that Stephens presents of the darker shades and mystery of his odd characters.

Two Shillings and Sixpence display these episodes in quick succession with Mike Leopold’s flexible staging. From a simple bench in an outdoor area for a parent and foster child to bid farewell, a decent enough hotel for a night of sadomasochism, to a room of aggressive interrogation. Director, Christien Anholt gives an interesting interpretation of the work that’s engaging, and gets the audience to find links and empathy for these ambiguous characters, yet, for the most part, it’s rather unsuccessful. (I mean, how often do empathise with someone involved in human trafficking?)

The 100-minute piece begins with a son saying goodbye to his foster mother, and it’s a difficult scene for anyone who has had to separate from their child. Tom Holloway’s clever acting shows erring signs of someone so traumatised that they feel compelled to move away from their mother and home. While Jennifer Hanah instills a slightly obsessive mother who tries her hardest to buy her time with him, before he flies away to Canada.

The second story is saucier with the director, Alholt taking on the role of Mark – the art teacher on the way to having an evening of pleasure with another anonymous, seeking gratification in a hotel room. The flow of conversation is absorbing as it begins as if both Mark and Lisa are strangers, yet soon the dark past of Lisa’s pornographic life unfolds which causes weird tension in the room. Selina Giles is marvelous as Lisa – the policewoman, unsatisfied with life, and desperate for a hard slap on the face from Mark to wake her up. Alholt embodies a charming and sexually aroused man, yet providing the same reaction to anyone bombarded with unexpected information – he heads for the vodka to bring him back to earth.

The third tale, however, is etched in my mind and will be remembered as one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen on stage. The way that Marie-Francois Wolff’s Sian scares the shit out of Jonathan, played by Mark Griffin, is absolutely petrifying. (I literally jumped out of my seat when she almost dug a sharp object into Jonathan’s hand!)

It’s an interrogation scene between customer and ruthless human trafficker. Sian unleashes a list of unrelated questions, and lashes out on Jonathan – penetrating brutal words in his mind, and reminding him of how illegal and criminal the exchange is. Griffin portrays an, almost, normal-looking man, but completed scared of the situation, yet more so of verbally abusive Sian. Yet his intentions for wanting a child from the Philippines are vague. Sian hints at questions about his wife, which suggest he could be buying a child from the black market for adoption reasons, yet one cannot shake off the possibility that his agenda is solely paedophilic.

With a strong cast, epic script, which is full of vivid imagery of people who live in the shadows, one leaves the Tabard feeling slightly disorientated. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking, yet what does Stephens want us, the audience, to feel? This is the main issue which may disappoint some, and illuminate for others.

4 stars

Review by Mary Nguyen

From Simon Stephens, the award winning playwright of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, comes Wastwater, from the same company who brought last years Bluebird to the Tabard Theatre.

Set within the shadow of Heathrow, three seemingly conventional yet fractured relationships are on the brink of monumental change. A mother and a son go their separate ways. Two lovers embark on sexual betrayal. A contractual arrangement takes upon a terrifying dimension.

Within these inextricably linked lives, Simon Stephens combination of black humour and emotional insight has crafted a play that combines agonising moments of terror with moving sensitivity.

Simon Stephens is an award-winning playwright, and the Artistic Associate of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. He has won the Olivier Award for Best New Play twice, once for On the Shore of the Wide World in 2005, and recently in 2013 for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Wastwater premiered at the Royal Court in 2011 and this new Tabard production represents its first London revival.

Directed by Christien Anholt (Reunion, Relic Hunter, Hamlet), the cast includes Mark Griffin (Gladiators, Daddy Day Care, Dr Who) and Selina Giles (V for Vendetta, Until Death, Restoration).

Named after the deepest lake in England, Wastwater is a mysterious and disturbing play that creates a complex, humane and concerned picture of the world.

Wastwater runs from Tues – Sat 7:30pm, 4 May – 4 June 2016


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