‘Water’ is a refreshing piece of theatre.
See what I did there?
I must admit that this week the idea of going to the theatre after work was about as enticing as watching Parliament Time or Channel Nine's coverage of the recent Olympics. I’d bought my ticket to ‘Water’ so long ago as part of my extras package in my STC subscription that I had forgotten what it was about and whether it was worth the trek into Hickson Road to see it. But loathe to throw in a ticket just in case I missed something wonderful, off I dutifully went to see Filter & David Farr’s production of ‘Water’ at the Sydney Theatre.
And I’m so very glad I did.
I fell in love with cinematic style theatre when I saw Robert Lepage’s ‘Lipsynch’ a few years back as part of the Sydney Festival- an extraordinary nine hour epic that weaved narrative through three different languages, surtitles, opera, documentary, traditional storytelling, realism, absurdism, technology and design. It was beautiful and I was hooked. Then I saw Complicite’s ‘Disappearing Number’. Bang. There it was again. Now I can add ‘Water’ to the list.
‘Water’ is a clever weave of stories spanning 26 years. It tells the story of five different characters whose narratives all connect through the theme of water- two estranged half-brothers, their ecologically informed scientist father, a British government negotiator at the G8 summit and her deep cave diving ex-boyfriend. We criss-cross through these stories, in time, place and images and are left to ask ourselves are our ambitions inextricably linked to our relationships with others? What propels us to act or not and what are the repercussions personally and globally?
Filter Theatre Company, with director David Farr, have crafted their performance and company’s ethos to ‘expose the workings of a production, so that the process in inextricably linked to the performance, the writing, the music and the sound. Actor, musician, video artist and stage manager are often visible to the audience…revelling in the immediacy of each moment and stimulating the audience’s imagination’. It’s visual and sonic storytelling. Whatever device of the stage that can be used to tell the story, it is utilised- space, technology, illusion, sound, light, design. Add to this, three very talented actors who can transform into a variety of roles and shifts in time instantly, so that audience are with them every step of the way, and you have a very clever show indeed. It is a ‘multi-stranded’ story that will please most who see it.
I was one of those people. From the return of the overhead projector at the start (didn’t that take me back to a time pre smart-boards and laptops) and maybe, the fact that the water molecule was called Jane and was labelled a social creature, I was sold. We are asked very early on to ‘join the dots’ and then the show proceeded to create a series of stories and images where we as audience did exactly that. I loved the gentle shifts in time, where backstory becomes present, and a simple gesture or item of costume or accent can transform one character to another instantly.
Even though all the action and technical aspects unfold in front of the audience, we are not suspended from engaging in each moment, in every choice. For instance, we accept that the man she is speaking to on the phone is a voice over from another actor right in front of you or the squash game is a projected series of live shadow images and sound is created live by the engineer (I know there is a specific name for that job but it eludes me right now). We see rolling sets, skype conversations, lights and sounds that represent elevators, rooms, lecture halls, press conferences and then there is the beautiful imagery of Joe, our deep-sea cave diver heading deep into the water in front of us on stage as we see him head towards his destiny. Characters react to sound, sound compliments action, visuals inform and enhance, characters can be in exactly the same space but we are aware they are separate and running in parallel lines and space and in the end we have a feast of choices that layer the metaphor and personal narratives with the social and political ramifications of the choices we make in this life.
It’s obvious I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Water’. Actors Oliver Dimsdale, Ferdy Roberts, Poppy Miller and sound engineer Tim Phillips, under the direction of David Farr, have taken what is a moving collection of stories with effective techniques in conveying each narrative or symbol and taken me on a journey that engaged me the whole performance.
And whilst I revel in the joy this show brought me, I wonder why almost every clever, enjoyable show STC has programmed in the last couple of years is an imported one. I'll leave you to ponder that too.
'Water' may not have Lepage’s or Complicite’s polished sense of sophistication but it had me, hook, line and sinker.
See what I did there?