by Simon Stephens.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 7 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 April.
Top-level production standards as human behaviour descends.
Simon Stephens and Katie Mitchell are top-of-their-game performers. Bringing them together should make for something special. And it does. Something specially gloomy, ungiving, surely bringing cheer only to a particularly severe Strindberg devotee.
It’s almost guilt-making, watching from the particularly comfortable Royal Court auditorium; a penitential perch in a site-specific wasteland might have brought it much closer home.
Stephens’ settings move towards the godforsaken. A skill of Lizzie Clachan’s design lies in presenting deep settings which transform speedily from the door of a past-its-best old house through an anaemic modern hotel-room to the final deserted warehouse.
Here human behaviour descends from the half-expressed affection of Frieda for a foster-son Harry, a young adult intending to set out across the world, unaware of his inadequacy to cope.
Thence to the opportunism of Mark’s airport-hotel meeting with the forceful Lisa, a dope-taking ex-porn actress police officer (she or Stephens piles it on) who’s into sexual brutality, and the basement of human relations as ex-teacher Jonathan waits for a nine year old girl illegally imported from the east for purposes not defined but fringed with sinister references.
A piece beginning with a departure ends with an even less happy arrival. Everything happens around the M25, making Wastwater second only to Vivienne Frantzmann’s Mogadishu as over-stretched title of the year; at least Stephens refers to the Lake District, though without spelling-out the link between Wastwater’s depth and murky human behaviour. Nor do casual cross-references between the separate scenes seem more than an easy playwriting trick.
If there’s any contrasting hope for humanity here it has to be wrenched from Sian the trafficker’s line about people wanting to raise children in the first place. As Frieda could have told her for most people do, and most do it largely successfully, at great expense of time and energy. Fewer follow Sian’s model of passing the child and walking away with loot from the transaction.
Strongly acted, intensified in impact by Mitchell’s precise direction, which holds the audience at an emotional distance, Stephens’ play repeatedly interrupts characters with low-flying aircraft, while its own direction is relentlessly down.
Harry: Tom Sturridge.
Frieda: Linda Bassett.
Mark: Paul Ready.
Lisa: Jo McInnes.
Sian: Amanda Hale.
Jonathan: Angus Wright.
Dalisay: Jasmine Chen/Candice Chen.
Director: Katie Mitchell.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: Lucy Carter.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Assistant director: Ellen McDougall.