Theatre Review - 'Wastwater'

Posted on: 18 April 2011 by Alexander Hay

Fear and loathing under the Heathrow flightpath

The water's not the only thing getting wasted...

An unplaceable threat of violence hovers over the characters and situations in Simon Stephen’s disappointing new play Wastwater, directed by Katie Mitchell, at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Set on the edges of Heathrow Airport, this is an elliptical triptych – a snapshot of three different couples who make a choice that will define the fallout of their future. In the first which is quietly poignant, a middle aged woman, Frieda, take a protracted goodbye to a teenage boy, Harry, she has fostered, who is on the point of leaving England.

In the second, teacher Mark and policewoman Lisa, who moonlights as a porn star, are on the point of a sexual betrayal that takes this into a darker place than they ever thought possible.

In the third, a man sweating with nerves meets a woman in a airport bunker to procure a trafficked child – with great unease you are never entirely sure of his motives. The woman, another of Frieda’s foster children, proceeds to humiliate him although he has brought the requisite sum of money to clinch the transaction.

In each part two people are in crisis, and the audience is sucked into claustrophobic proximity with three steadily brutalising transactions. Indeed the play begins placidly enough, but becomes increasingly suffused with ugliness and violence. The title refers to England’s deepest lake in the Lake District and explores the dark depths beneath an apparently still surface. But the trouble is the three stories do not coalesce into a satisfying whole, while the point of the play completely eluded me. There are Pinteresque elements here but while Pinter could mame menace and mystery fascinating this is not the case with Stephens – i fact the third piece atrains credibility to the hilt.

But while Mitchell does her best to create discomfort and unease, the performances certainly create a chilling sense of conviction. Tom Sturridge is suitably awkward as Harry, Linda Bassett makes a touching foster mother, Frieda, Amanda Hale is terrifying as the sociopathic child trafficker, and Paul Ready and Jo McInnes generate some unexpected sexual comedy as the two strangers who meet for the first time in a hotel room.

Plays until May 7

Box office: 0207 565 5000

Press: 0207 565 5063

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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