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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review

We're nowhere near as atomised as people wish we were, you know? It's like there are synapses. We're connected. All of us. — Sian
Linda Bassett as Frieda and Tom Sturridge as Harry (Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
Simon Stephens has written this enigmatic triptych piece with the title of a lake that is hard to fathom and with Katie Mitchell on board as director. Wastwater isn't going to be immediately accessible but will trickle into and penetrate your mind as you seek to give it meaning. The play has three separate scenes and although in each there are tenuous links, what unites them is that in each the individuals make selfish decisions that will be irrevocable and maybe damaging to those close to them and they also allude to past events that were also life shattering.

All three scenes are near Heathrow Airport with the noise of jets overhead in themselves foreboding and omnipresent. This place that is a state of flux, of travel, people escaping their ordinary lives. In the first scene, Harry (Tom Sturridge) is saying goodbye to his foster mother Frieda (Linda Bassett) as he leaves to emigrate to Canada. Harry talks about his friend Gavin who died in a car accident when Harry and Gavin were both drunk. Harry thinks he should have stopped Gavin driving. Harry also talks about climate change in the context of the end of the ice age and the introduction of farming. In the second scene Lisa (Jo McInnes) and Mark (Paul Ready) are in a hotel embarking on a sexual affair although both are in another long term, permanent relationship. Mark is an art teacher who taught Harry's friend Gavin. In the third scene in a hangar, Jonathan (Angus Wright) is meeting Sian (Amanda Hale) to arrange the handover of a child from the Philippines for an illegal adoption which he has paid £31,000. Sian, hard hitting and unscrupulous used to be fostered by Frieda and Jonathan taught Clare, Mark's girlfriend and Mark, from the second scene.

In the middle scene Lisa talks about the lake Wastwater, the deepest lake in the country in the English Lake District. The lake is surrounded by mountains and the water is very still but Lisa's father told her how there are bodies hidden under the water. Research tells us that bodies have been found submerged in Wastwater and that divers have died there because it is so very deep. The lake is a metaphor for how we live now, we are all living in the clouded, sunless valley on the edges of a very deep lake with dead bodies lying beneath it. Overhead the noise and interruption of the jets means conversation has to cease.

Designer Lizzie Clachan has created three distinctive and admirable sets. The first, Frieda's home is a dilapidated conservatory with glass dusted over and some panes broken, the second is an anodyne hotel room and finally there is a brick lined vast hangar. The set changeovers were imperceptible. How was that done?

With each scene the motives seem to be darker and potentially more damaging. In the second scene a sexual fantasy of being hit is played out and in the final scene we cannot be sure whether Jonathan is an adopting father or a paedophile but the child has been through a terrible experience, drugged and flown hundreds of miles to a strange place where she cannot understand the language.

Simon Stephens experiments here with form and produces a bleak play with some of the people giving into their basest desires irrespective of the hurt and harm to others.

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Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Katie Mitchell

Starring: Tom Sturridge, Linda Bassett, Angus Wright, Amanda Hale, Paul Ready, Jo McInnes
With: Jasmine Chen/Candice Chen
Designed by Lizzie Clachan
Lighting: Lucy Carter
Sound: Gareth Fry
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 7th May 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th April 2011 performance at The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square London SW1 W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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