Wastwater is England’s deepest lake. Its surface may be icy smooth but underneath is an undercurrent that is dark and troubling….a bit like Simon Stephens 2011 play of the same name.
A revival is currently playing at London’s Tabard Theatre and, while it is skilfully performed by a rotating cast of actors, I’m left floundering in its depths, wondering just what its writer wanted us to get out of it.
The 100-minute long play is written as an elliptical triptych about three couples and the life-changing decisions they make. Common themes of place and behaviour, and a thin length of superfine thread, join the plays and their subjects, together. All three are complex, dark, disturbing, shocking, and, occasionally, baffling.
The scenes are set around Heathrow, an airport that impacts on people’s lives whether it be a gateway to escape or a blight on the neighbourhood.
By far the most interesting playlet is the central story surrounding art teacher Mark who meets a woman in a hotel room for sex. What should have been a straightforward arrangement turns into a confessional with surprising results for both of them.
We’re not given any back story as to how these two got together. Are they lovers about to commit or is she simply someone he’s picked up?
He wants to get down to it. She’s not sure. Suddenly she starts blurting out the shocking secrets of her past – the drugs, the porn, the abuse – before asking her date to hit her. He has demons of his own, struggling to come to terms with a death. He’s never hit a woman before. Can he do it?
Christien Anholt, son of 1960’s TV heartthrob, Tony, and soon to be seen in The Trials of Jane Fonda at London’s Park Theatre, is Wastwater’s director and star of the segment. His performance, and that of Selina Giles, as his date, Lisa, are riveting.
But this engrossing scenario is bookended by two oddly unconvincing stories. The first sees a damaged teen flying the nest to start a new life in Canada. He’s been in foster care since committing arson and recklessly killing his best mate in a car crash and now plans to go whale-watching (as you do).
Tom Holloway’s Harry is rather intense and unnerving. I’m not entirely sure that he’s safe being let out into the big wide world, much less chasing Orcas. He seems to give little thought to his foster mum, Frieda, (Jennifer Hanah) who appears distraught at his departing.
She begs him to stay, crying and pleading with him, but the boy’s mind is made up.
Another foster kid turns up in the third, and most unrealistic, of the tales. The scary Sian (Kate Freer) plays a people-trafficker who puts a terrified guy through a pointless interrogation before handing him a child.
Mark Griffin may have once been Action Man on TV, but here, as ex-teacher Jonathan, he is pinned down and unable to move.
Jonathan is put through the wringer – and we have to ask ourselves why – before he is handed a little girl who has been smuggled into the country. The innocent among us may hope that he and his estranged wife want her to raise as their own; the guilty may feel Jonathan, who used to flirt with schoolgirls, may have other ideas. It’s never made clear.
And that’s the problem with Wastwater. There are too many unanswered questions, not enough depth and not enough clarity. Here are three couples on the edge but we don’t know what brought them there.
Why does Jonathan have to be grilled when he’s there, with the cash, to collect? Why is Frieda so consumed with sadness at losing this particular child when so many have been through her door? How on earth does Lisa manage to keep her private life a secret when she’s a cop and some of her colleagues must have seen the porn films she makes on the side?
Wastwater plays at the Tabard Theatre until June 4.
Simon Stephens’ 2011 play, Wastwater, is as deep and unfathomable as its Lake District namesake, but Tabard Theatre’s revival is skilfully acted and engrossing to watch.