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A CurtainUp London London Review
The River

It wasn't because I'd lost my fish. It was because I had seen something I never knew was there. A force. A spirit. — the Man
The River
Miranda Raison as the Woman and Dominic West as the Man
(Photo: John Haynes)
Whilst also set in the West Country like his tremendously popular play Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth's new play The River seems to me to hark back to the mystique of legend of his Fenland roots. Whilst Jerusalem was full of larger than life characters, this new play is about atmosphere and unseen forces which was the undercurrent of Jerusalem. Set in an isolated wooden cabin, the Man (Dominic West) is visited by a girlfriend, the Woman (Miranda Raison) whom he is intending take fly fishing for the magical moment on a moonless night when the sea trout return to the local river from where they spawned as river trout. Full of mystery, angling and country lore, this play is about patterns and repetition.

As the woman goes into another room at the rear of the stage, onto the set seamlessly comes the Other Woman (Laura Donnelly). When one woman leaves, the other seems to carry on as The Man dances the metaphorical dance, casts his line for a symbolic fish, repeating what he has enacted with a previous woman. It suddenly becomes apparent that we may be watching a tale of serial sex and fly fishing.

Like Jerusalem, The River is directed by Ian Rickson who knows how to build suspense in a very subtle way. Dominic West gives a restrained, elliptical and brooding performance, full of masculine ambiguity with no easy answers. Miranda Raison's Woman is quite prickly and assertive as she probes for explanation of who went before but Laura Donnelly's Other Woman is less overtly questioning and more pleasure seeking. The early scene between West and Raison illustrates the tension in the relationship as she wants him to look at the sunset with her and he wants her to go fishing with him for sea trout at night. She demands that he describe the sunset and he responds almost ironically with a lush description of, "trails of apricot, feathering out through blue, dark blue and aquamarine to an iris ring of obsidian . . ." It reaches a low point when he asks her to read a poem about fishing which she derides.

Another veteran of Jerusalem, designer Ultz gives us a wonderfully detailed and realistic room on the ground floor of the isolated cabin. As both women outcast and outfish the Man, we see him cooking onstage a magnificent sea trout specimen caught by her. I was impressed with his culinary skills as he cuts up fennel to accompany the trout.

This atmospheric piece through an ostensibly simple story makes us examine who we are and how we behave and evolve. I suspect you could see it again and again and each time notice something different, something that hadn't struck you on first seeing. It is better than a ghost story because The River is about the ethereal within us all.

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The River
Written by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Ian Rickson

Starring: Dominic West, Miranda Raison, Laura Donnelly
Designed by Ultz
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Running time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 17th November 2012 with tickets released on the day at 9am
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th October 2012 at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Sloane Square London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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