“Water is a sociable molecule, it loves to mingle”
First seen at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2007, Filter and David Farr’s collaborative effort Water has been revived and is playing for a month at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Water pulls together two main stories, the first featuring a pair of half-brothers struggling to deal with the legacy of their deceased father, an early proponent of climate change theory, and their different perceptions of him before and after he accepted corporate money to silence his views, and the second about a young political adviser trying to push through a binding climate change agreement at a major international summit in the face of her own splintering relationship with her deep cave diving boyfriend. And the show really is about these human dramas rather than environmental issues per se, the connection to water that they all have is incidental rather than integral.
Using their trademark style of laying much of the theatrical process bare, the three actors, sound technician and stage team ‘create’ in front of us and with this deceptively simple approach, moments of stark beauty are achieved: the silhouetted squash game and the striking, wordless penultimate scene being two particular standouts. The way in the soundscape is created by everyone in the most varied of manners and then further developed by Tim Phillips is brilliantly executed, finding connections in the most disparate of things.
Ferdy Roberts, Oliver Dimsdale and Victoria Moseley cover all the roles between them, Roberts standing out as the incredibly socially awkward Graham, also playing his professor father with a nice warmth; Moseley’s career-driven woman was also particularly well-realised and extremely believable in the way her private dilemmas slowly but surely encroached on her professional life. Dimsdale had a tougher job with his roles as the more self-assured half-brother and the thrill-seeking boyfriend, both comparatively subsidiary parts to the above-mentioned leads and subsequently less developed in the play.
Taken in and of itself though, I couldn’t help but feel that Water was a little underwhelming. For all its inventiveness and the passion of the team involved, the stories that are told here don’t feel particularly revelatory or substantial enough to be considered essential. That said, plays rarely exist in a vacuum and given my somewhat reduced expectation level on two different fronts, it actually emerged as a pleasant enough experience for me.
Filter is a company I admire, though I’ve yet to have an experience with them that really works for me: I wasn’t a fan (though it often feels like I’m one of the only ones) of their Twelfth Night, yes it is highly amusing and energetic and the company have a great time but in terms of a story-telling exercise I found it surprisingly weak and likewise I wasn’t a fan of their Three Sisters, a fairly pedestrian production featuring some (but not enough) experimental (but annoying) sound design which did little to enhance matters. But Water seemed to rein in the excesses of these shows and demonstrate a less hectic and more focused approach which worked better for me.
The second point that had me a little concerned was the (perceived) subject matter. Theatre focused on green issues is very much du jour: the Royal Court’s The Heretic lies in wait for me in a week’s time but the National’s experiment that was Greenland which failed to surmount its multi-author, multi-strand format did not augur well for this show, but by keeping the story count down to two, it was able to achieve a greater sense of focus and therefore emotional connection.
However, it does seem that there is something of a paucity of ideas in shows around this area with the same archetypes popping up: the scientist paid off by the establishment emerged again in Earthquakes in London, the frustrated woman at a climate change conference was a key part of Greenland. For a topic that is so current and also very popular with playwrights at the moment, it does not seem to be encouraging enough original thinking which is reflected I think in the weariness of audiences (Greenland was struggling to sell tickets even before the notices), a depressing notion given how serious an issue it is.
So in an oughttobeclowns nutshell, if you didn’t like Greenland and are not quite convinced about Filter, you will probably quite like this: I’m really not sure what the rest of the world will think though. It was well received on this Saturday night, it does features some stunning sound design, engaging character work and is swiftly over in 90 minutes, I couldn’t help but long for, well, some more sophisticated drama.