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Review of Treading Water by Kathryn Gardner at the Vault Festival

Treading Water
Treading Water

A brief review of a brief play. Treading Water has quite an ideal setting for the sort of conversations that take place between Carol (Amy Ambrose), Sue (Kathryn Gardner) and Guy (Joshua Ruhle). The third character isn’t, as far as I recall, actually named, so I’m taking a leaf out of Once The Musical, in which the two leading characters were simply named Guy and Girl. Carol has come to work on her birthday – she has her reasons for doing so – presumably the same reasons as most other people who work on their birthday: namely, there are bills and a mortgage that need paying, and life to be getting on with.

I’ve never been a lifeguard: for one thing, I’ve never had an interest in keeping physically active beyond running for a connecting train to get home. But I do recall the days when I had a job that was frantically busy one moment, and eerily quiet the next, and in those moments of downtime, the people I worked with shared some spirited discussions. Some were bizarre, some were philosophical, others were comical. Here, when there aren’t lives are at risk at the beach, mostly because, judging by the amount of clothes these lifeguards had on, it was too cold to go in the water, there’s more than enough time for the duo to observe Guy, who spends his mornings scanning the seaside with a metal detector.

A particularly amusing moment comes when Sue perceives someone in distress, though Carol rightly calls out that it’s an inanimate object bobbing up and down. It’s humour of this sort that makes this play relatively deep and yet very accessible, bringing in different topics in a subtle manner while keeping the storyline tight. In this instance, underneath the witty dialogue, a point is made about the wider impact on so much rubbish being in the sea these days, and without ever coming anywhere close to lecturing or preaching on the subject.

The awkwardness on Sue’s part when it comes to approaching and then speaking with the gentleman is equally painful and farcical. It’s one of those situations where someone is so keen to make a good impression that their efforts are overblown, with unintended consequences. Though Guy turns out to favour intellectuality over being entertaining in the course of his conversations (or direct addresses to the audience), the facts and details pouring out of him at least have some relevance to what is already happening in the show at that point. All things considered, this is a delightful and absorbing production of a sharp and perceptive script.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sue and Carol are lifeguards. Their routine is simple and their dreams seems equally so as they spend their days keeping the morning swimmers, the day-trippers, and the evening strollers safe. Day after day they sit, they wait, and they watch the world go by.
But when your job is to watch, when do you actually get to live? And what are they waiting for? A sign of danger?
Maybe that’s just what they need.
Each and every morning a lone figure appears on the sand; arriving early to make sure they get the best treasure. The women watch, transfixed as the figure wafts their equipment, listening for the beep… If only there were a way to get them to come over. If only there was a way to get them to say something. Anything.

28th Feb – 4th Mar 2018
Brick Hall
Vault Festival 2018
Leake Street, London SE1 7NN


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