Linda Bassett (Frieda) and Tom Sturridge (Harry) Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Reviewed by James Karas
Wastwater, the title of a new play by Simon Stephens that opened on March 31, 2011 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, refers to the deepest lake in England. It is located in the Lake District and is described as terribly still with many bodies hidden underneath. That is a very good clue to understanding this opaque and seemingly still play that has depth and “bodies” under the surface.
The play involves three couples who are obliquely connected. In the first scene we see a foster child leaving his foster mother to go to what appears like exile on Vancouver Island. Harry is 22 and he has had a troubled childhood. He got drunk and drove a car in which his friend was killed.
As with Lake Wastwater, all the action is underneath. Harry has had a troubled past. He believes that the move from hunter-gatherer to farmer for homo sapiens was a catastrophic change. His foster mother Frieda lives near an airport and the construction of another runway will put an end to the farm that she is keeping,
Tom Sturridge plays a subtle Harry suggesting both mental disturbance and humanity. Linda Bassett is a very good Frieda who loves but does not necessarily understand what her foster children are doing.
The second scene takes place in a fancy hotel room where Mark (Paul Ready) a handsome teacher meets Lisa (Jo McInnes) for an afternoon of adultery. He is in for a few surprises: Lisa is a former drug addict, porno film maker and policewoman. She wants him to beat her up as part of their sexual fun. This is a bit more than Mark bargained for. Mark was fired from his teaching job because he hit Harry, the troubled youth of the first scene.
Ready plays Mark at the beginning as a self-assured would-be adulterer who does not flinch at Lisa’s initial revelations and description of her desires. He is even willing to be blindfolded and tied. But this woman wants to be hit and there seems to be no end to her bizarre past. Jo McInnes’s Lisa is a sexy older woman who chose her target and slowly leads him to her style of seduction and sex.
The third scene is even more bizarre. Sian (Amanda Hale) one of Frieda’s former charges, meets Jonathan (Angus Wright), a maths teacher, in a warehouse near the airport in order to complete a transaction. Before the transaction is completed, the foulmouthed, brutal Sian asks Jonathan a number of questions including what is his favourite piece of music and why.
He replies that it is Messiaen’s “Music for the End of Time.” It was a piece that was composed in a prison camp and has painful orchestration and a beautiful melody, he explains. What is this highly cultured man doing with Sian? It turns out, he is an aficionado of child pornography and he is buying a nine-year old child.
Wright plays the frightened and nervous Jonathan marvellously and provides a perfect contrast to the violent and malevolent Sian of Amanda Hale.
Wastwater is directed with care and perfect balance by Katie Mitchell. It is an intricate play that bears reading and watching more than once. It is the type of play one finds at the innovative Royal Court Theatre.
Wastwater by Simon Stephen opened on March 31 and played until May 7, 2011 at the Royal Court Theatre, London. www.royalcourttheatre.com