Wastwater is Simon Stephens latest play and has just opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London. I attended the second preview night yesterday. It’s a play that has no interval and for 1hr and 40 mins took me on an engrossing journey, where I went through a range of thoughts, feelings and emotions. That to me is a hallmark of a good playwright.
Act 1 is a beautiful act, grappling tenderly with the issue of a foster child departing from the foster parent. It’s poignant, witty and moving. It sets the foundations for this play and some of its themes are carefully woven here, although you’re not aware of them until the end. Tom Sturridge as Harry gives a touching portrayal as the foster “child” leaving. Linda Bassestt is superb as the foster mum, asking akward questions and trying not to reveal how upset she is. To say it’s a “lovely” act might make it sound a bit naff, far from it, really it is “lovely”. Well written dialogue, and acted with a genuineness that is rare to see.
The curtain comes down, rain is heard and then “boom” up goes the curtain on a totally different set, I was amazed at the transformation.
Act 2 it becomes clear pretty soon, isn’t going to be such a “lovely” act. Now I’m in a generic corporate hotel room, with a couple who are there for one reason, sex. However the conversation cleverly weaves partly into the previous scene and the sex never happens. Paul Ready as Mark and Jo McInnes as Lisa like their Act 1 colleagues perform with exceptional skill. Jo McInnes is wickedly brilliant. Throughout this act, Simon Stephens keeps us on our toes, and there are a few surprises.
Act 3 links in subtlety with Acts 1 and 2. It’s quite a disturbing and harrowing act, and yet the ending isn’t. I don’t want to say too much about it as I think you really need to see it. Amanda Hale plays her character Sian menacingly and Sian has to be one of the worst bitches I’ve seen on stage for a long time! Angus Wright’s performance as Jonathan is remarkable. As I was not sure of the nature of the transaction that is occurring at the beginning of this act, I wasn’t sure whether to be sympathetic or reviled by him. Angus Wright created a palpable sense of fear which I’ve never experienced on stage before. A brilliant performance!
Simon Stephens writing is excellent, and seeing how he ties these three acts together and confronts us with several issues and ideas at once, with the motif of Heathrow T5 and aeroplanes shows a playwright that knows their craft.
Why is it called Wastwater then? Well the scripts/programmes for sale were entitles Wastwater and T5. The lake Wastwater is referenced and so it does make sense as to why it’s called just Wastwater. If you listen to the podcast with Simon Stephens and Katie Mitchell you’ll hear more about the play and Simon Stephens love for T5!
Katie Mitchell’s direction is authentic for this play. There’s only ever two characters on stage at any one time (well three briefly in Act 3) and she brings out the inherent feeling of being trapped in each scene, contrasting it skillfully with the roaring sounds of the aeroplanes overhead “escaping”.
Although this was a preview performance, it certainly did not show. If the cast are this good on the second night it bodes very well for the rest of the run.