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The Water’s Edge by Theresa Rebeck – The Questors Theatre

The setting, a note in the show’s programme asserts, “is immaterial”. I beg to differ: if it were truly immaterial, why not set it in Antarctica? All of the action takes place in the back garden of a country house. Of course, English country houses can (and do) have gardens, but would there really be day after day of dry weather? Why is there no parasol, gazebo or anything that could provide shelter from the inevitable rain? I take the director’s point about not having to bother with American accents and investing the time and effort to get it right (not always an easy feat – US ‘accents’ even at the National Theatre have been questionable over the years). But if there were, say, a heatwave that justifies all that sunshine, would not someone at some point have mentioned how oppressive the heat is? These people don’t talk about the weather at all – the play, originally set in Massachusetts, has been reset in Britain, but the production isn’t British enough.

The Water's Edge | Credit Evelina Plonyte.
The Water’s Edge | Credit Evelina Plonyte.

Add to this the heightened emotions from everyone except Richard (Paul James), who calmly tries to navigate his way back into a home and family he hasn’t been around for seventeen years. The absence of the stiff upper lip is noticeable, though admittedly the near-constant bickering and arguing between factions of the same family does make for good theatre. Very little about the family life Richard left behind has been revealed to his girlfriend Lucy (Clare Purdy). Ostensibly she “wouldn’t have come”, in Richard’s words, if she had known more, though it seemed obvious that the lack of prior communication was a vehicle for the family themselves, particularly matriarch Helen (Lisa Day), to tell Lucy – and thus the audience – all and sundry.

The narrative is thus somewhat contrived, but the trade-off is that it is easy to follow, despite family members telling one another that they do not need to rehash certain details because they are already known to parties in the conversation. Completing the set of on-stage characters are Richard and Helen’s grown-up children, Erica (Nicola Ditter) and Nate (Sam Ebner-Landy), who still live at home. Why not? I was advised many years ago that it would be economically prudent to stay in the family home for as long as it was viable – and very sound advice it proved to be in the end.

A contemporary (ish) adaptation of Agamemnon, the first of the three plays in The Oresteia trilogy of Ancient Greek tragedies, Helen is effectively Clytemnestra, waiting patiently, year after year, to eventually avenge the death of her daughter Leah (Iphigenia in the original). Quite why, millennia after the Greek trilogy determined that punishment for criminal behaviour should be determined through the courts rather than individually getting one’s own back, Helen felt direct action was the best way forward, isn’t clear. “I have forgiven myself,” a defiant Helen decides. But the narrative’s conclusion strongly suggests it is Erica and Nate who determine whether she enjoys what she believes to be freedom for very long.

With Richard’s commercial success (he appears to have six houses, then six hundred, then six thousand) comes a level of misguided assuredness about how wonderful everything is. He still has the gift of the gab, and in this engaging and steadily paced production, he remains something of an enigma, calmly resisting a direct and blunt attempt from Erica to find out what exactly his intentions are. Ditter’s Erica is volatile, though only because Theresa Rebeck’s script subjects the character to emotional extremes as if this in itself constitutes some kind of coming of age. Not without flaws, this play is nonetheless an intriguing portrait of a world in which one still reaps what one sows.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A fractured family reunion, with fateful consequences…
Surrounded by the serenities of nature, an old face casts a shadow over a glistening lake. After a 17 year absence, a father dares to return to his family – a challenge difficult enough, even without a new girlfriend in tow. Ever since the fatal “accident” which tore their family at the seams, his wife Helen has been left, ridden with grief, to bring up two children. Now, Richard attempts to win back the affections of his family. However, the past cannot help but haunt them, especially when it is lapping at their doorstep.

But is Richard revealing all his cards? Will Helen give into his charms? And what happens when people believe that the only way to heal is to hurt?

A searing, poignant drama exploring loss, revenge and repercussions. Written by multi-award-winning feminist playwright Theresa Rebeck, and inspired by The Oresteia, this captivating contemporary play leaves an impact as powerful as an epic Greek Tragedy.

6 Nov – 13 Nov 21 | in the Studio
http://www.questors.org.uk/

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