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Cold Water – Park Theatre | Review

A curious play partially about the entertainment industry – albeit set in a classroom – comes at a coincidentally topical time, as there has been some discussion on social media about working class actors and creatives and the barriers and challenges they face, relative to people who are independently wealthy and/or are sufficiently well connected. Emma (Julia Pilkington) is a new teaching assistant at the secondary school where, not so many years ago, she herself was a pupil. Some of the staff who taught her are still there. Matt (Jolyon Coy) runs the drama department, and it’s one of those schools that puts on full scale plays – that is, not a ‘schools edition’ version of a play. This term, they’re doing a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Julia Pilkington and Jolyon Coy in Cold Water. Photo credit: Jake Bush
Julia Pilkington and Jolyon Coy in Cold Water. Photo credit: Jake Bush

Matt, 35, trained at RADA and had some roles in productions but ultimately decided treading the boards and being on film sets wasn’t for him. Emma, 22, is impressionable enough to still want to be on stage, but for reasons ultimately known only to herself, she doesn’t take any action on the advice Matt gives her, to the extent of not attending an audition he had set up for her, and not putting in any applications to drama schools before ‘the deadline’ (I’d have thought there would be different deadlines for different institutions, but let’s not major on the minor).

The play suggests there is still some growing up for Emma to do. The frustration on Matt’s part is palpable when it transpires that she has no idea what she wants to do next. Ask a child what they want to do for a career, and you might get a very considered response, or a fanciful one, or a shrug of the shoulders. No matter: there is still time to think on it. Not so for Emma. The narrative very much came across as ‘first world problems’ to me – perhaps a crash course in communication studies would benefit the character. I should hasten to add that Julia Pilkington does brilliantly to portray a woman who finds it difficult to vocalise what is going through her mind. But when Emma fails to respond to various phone calls after failing to appear for an audition, is it because some people of her generation barely if ever use their mobile phone to talk to someone on a voice call?

There’s a subplot involving Matt and his wife, Katya, who are trying for a baby. Matt draws a parallel between Katya’s intense and passionate quest to become a mother and other aspects of life, asserting that a more laidback approach might just result in achieving the same result, without excessive – and ultimately, wasted – effort. Perhaps this is what Emma draws from in her apparent indecision: if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.

The inclusion of a section from Chekhov’s The Seagull didn’t, in the end, add much to the production, in the sense that it could have been removed without making a difference to the narrative. There isn’t, alas, much of a satisfying conclusion to this play, and despite a cliffhanger ending, I didn’t find myself wondering what happened to either character next. If the idea was to portray bashfulness when it comes to wanting to work in the theatre, the safe space of Matt’s classroom could have been utilised better to make this clear.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Matt – Jolyon Coy
Emma – Julia Pilkington

Writer/Director – Philippa Lawford (she/her)
Producer/Associate Director – Izzy Parriss (she/her)

Cold Water is a funny and moving new play about wanting things so much you can’t do anything about them. Following the intimate friendship of Emma, who dreams of being an actor and has recently moved back in with her parents and Matt, who previously worked in the creative industries and is now a full-time teacher, this gripping new play explores themes of ambition and what really drives us.

Tuesday 14 May to Saturday 1 June 2024
Park Theatre (Park 90)

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