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A CurtainUp London London Review
Pool (no water)

We took a wrong turning into art and now we have nothing.
---- Man played by Keir Charles
Pool (no water)

(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I think that Mark Ravenhill’s plays will be remembered in future centuries as searing criticisms of the worst excesses of twenty first century society. Why are they important? Although they contain scenes of depravity, these are not plays for voyeurs because, like George Bernard Shaw, Ravenhill writes from a highly moral point of view.

In pool (no water) his attention is taken by a group of artists of the installation ilk. What is in play here are two parallel themes: the nature of group behaviour in pursuing acts which would be unacceptable individually but which gain momentum and escalating extremism in a setting of validation by the group. They are heightened by the use of recreational drugs and the ability to shock, enrage, and perform abusive acts in the name of art.

The collaboration which has produced pool (no water) is by the theatre company Frantic Assembly which has made its name with spectacular physical theatre and state of the art choreography and movement with exciting musical accompaniment. In the Lyric’s programme, Ravenhill admits that as a social and political writer he did not like physical theatre. But through workshops and his research of artist Nan Goldin’s photographs of her "bohemian, drug addled, multisexual friends, of the ill and the bruised" he was inspired by an artist who turned her life into a piece of art. I have to admit that I too am not normally an enthusiast about physical theatre; I prefer something to engage me mentally but Ravenhill’s work satisfies and disturbs on many levels.

The story centres on a group of four lesser artists — followers, hangers on. The two men and two women are collaborators on a project to provide murals for heroin babies. They talk about Sally, a woman they have worked with in the past who has gained commercial success, declaring that "she has a pool now but she hasn’t forgotten us." When Sally has an accident which places her in hospital in a coma, the four take up positions by her bedside. They start by photographing, merely recording as she heals. "But the temptation is there to arrange", to display, to use this event as an opportunity to create and, high on drugs, they visit on Sally’s unconscious body the most depraved and sexually invasive acts in the name of art. The audience cannot fail to be saddened and disgusted. When she regains consciousness, the group is relieved, "I’m so glad that art has gone away and we can be people again."

Before the play opens, the audience is treated to a pre-show video montage of an open, beautiful, white tiled swimming pool. The light and the reflections of water create an atmosphere which is at once artistic and beautiful. I was blown away by the movement, the intensity of physical expression to wild and throbbing music by Imogen Heap.

The narrative is delivered by each actor in turn with the other three expressing in movement with synchronised arm movements and fingers clicking. Often they fall together or race across the stage like characters in a dream. They mime skinny dipping partially clothed for us, two of them take turns to lie on the hospital bed as Sally.

All four performers — Leah Muller as the younger woman, Cait Davies as the quirky Lesbian, Mark Rice-Oxley young and gay, Keir Charles as the older man — move exceptionally well in what for them is a very physically demanding work. Joint directors, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett deliver a visually electric show, as exciting to the eye as De La Guarda but with a depth of meaning derived from Ravenhill’s uncompromising observations which are full of bitter, black humour and acerbic wit.

pool (no water) is a blistering tale of envy and cynical exploitation. It's delivered with an admirable physicality.

Written by Mark Ravenhill
Directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett

With: Keir Charles, Cait Davies, Leah Muller, Mark Rice-Oxley
Design: Miriam Buether
Lighting: Natasha Chivers
Music Imogen Heap
Film: Adrian Love
A Frantic Assemby, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and Drum Theatre Plymouth production
Running time: One hour thirty minutes with no interval
Box Office: 08700 500 511
Booking at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith to 18th November 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st November 2006 performance at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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