Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Waters Edge - Arcola Theatre

The Water’s Edge By Theresa Rebeck
Director: Fiona Morrell

Reviewer: Honour Bayes

The second of the Arcola Theatre’s ‘Re-imagining the Classics’ season, Theresa Rebeck’s The Water’s Edge is a more faithful if slightly less ritualistic Greek beast than In Blood: The Bacchae . Bursting with passion, revenge and trance like poetic speeches, the gods themselves seem to hang over this modern American family as they battle over property and land in a fight which concludes in as bloody a fashion as would make any tragedian proud. However this modern version gets lost in its own histrionics and consequently for all its bravado, ends up slightly palling with a pragmatic western audience.

A triumphantly successful Richard and new svelte girlfriend Lucy return to Richard’s old family home, a place he has not seen in 14 years. From the confused, angry and deeply resentful reception he is given from his regal wife Helen and his 20 year old children Erica and Nate it is clear that he did not leave on good terms. As lie after lie is revealed it all begins to center around the drowning of their child Leah for which Helen has held Richard solely responsible and for which he was banished. Richard now wants his life and house back and a painful battle commences.

Rebeck has said that on reading The Oresteia it was the hate filled mother Clytemnestra who she was most drawn to and indeed it is Helen who is the central driving force of this piece. Madeleine Porter does a mesmerising job as Rebeck’s damned Greek Queen, the embittered and embattled mother who has to go immeasurable lengths to get the justice that the Gods will not provide. Porcelain skin, red lips, red hair, she softly prowls around the stage with the silent strength of a panther waiting to pounce. Her speech is clipped and precise and with every word we see the controlled monster within the temptress’ gaze.

Robert Cavanah does a strong job with Richard, although he has cracks in his character’s facade, not quite able to fully breathe life into this pony tailed victor when he is pontificating about nature to a darkened audience. Nonetheless he and Porter’s contest is a passionately engaging one and he gives the impression of equal opponent to Porter’s formidable lioness.

Kate Sissons brings a depth and gravitas to Lucy which transposes her from cheap girlfriend to the only intelligently sane person present. But her role, as with the children, seems desperately smudgy when contrasted with the white hot clarity with which husband and wife attack each other. As the children, Cressida Trew as Erica and Mark Field as Nate struggle with immature parts. Trew’s originally sexless Erica projects too much aggression, which is too quickly tempered in repenting hindsight with soft mannered girlishness. Field’s is a frustratingly powerless Nate, an Oedipus to Porter’s Jocasta (yes I’m mixing my Greek myths) he has to deal with Rebeck’s panache for stilted, half finished sentences, which instead of prompting a feeling of vulnerability, just makes him incredibly irritating.

Fiona Morrell’s direction is capable but at times slightly unfocused, the extended scene changes only really being saved by Soumik Datta’s music which runs a beautifully masterful rhythm throughout this piece. Delicately highlighting, commenting and supporting all the extremity of emotion on stage, Datta’s music is a revelation in how one can aurally develop and infect a dramatic situation as it takes on Cassandra’s role in tragically predicting the doom to come.

The Water’s Edge investigates a classic tale of family betrayal and injustice and twists it into a modern domestic situation by smoothly transposing it to an American dysfunctional family setting. The ‘fate’ which dooms Richard, Helen and their children is here represented by selfish individualistic need which is a powerful to us, in a modern world where there are no unifying set of belief systems, as the God’s were to the Greeks. However although this is a play which is enveloped in beautifully vivid imagery, sadly this powerful point gets lost under Rebeck’s ending, which by giving the children an over-the-top and ultimately superfluous justification, adds too many ideas to this epic – The Oresteia was in three parts and Rebeck should have understood that she could only tell one of them in this 2 hour play.

The Waters Edge runs at the Arcola until Sat 28thFeb 2009
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