Taking inspiration from its namesake, the deepest lake in England, Simon Stephen’s Wastwater promises a triptych delving into the dark recesses of human nature; however, instead it delivers an inconsistent production with three entirely separate sections. In each tale, references are made to past or future characters, tenuously linking three stories, which would otherwise hold very little in common. Each part is performed in its entirety, featuring different characters and a different part of the set. Had these three isolated tales been interwoven, Simon Reeves’ production could have had a much stronger dynamic; Shaun Llewelyn’s nonchalant Harry in the first story, juxtaposed with Hannah Barker’s manic Lisa in the second, would have created a level of tension which was missing from the first two sections.
Oliver Brett’s truly inspired set ignites an immediate sense of anticipation, which sadly dissipates as the first story unfolds; repetitive and stagnant, the actors bring little depth to clichéd characters. The second section explores far darker themes which cross the line into distasteful at times, with descriptions of graphic sexual acts and a porn film being played to the audience. Such instruments are not to be universally condemned, a level of discomfort can sometimes be welcome in theatre in a perversely enjoyable exploration of pushing boundaries, however, in this instance, my limits were pushed past the point of enjoyment.
Hannah Barker’s portrayal of what becomes increasingly clear is a broken, unbalanced woman is delicately handled as an initially sultry, albeit neurotic, temptress disintegrates into a perverse, unstable liability; Barker’s beautiful acapella rendition of a segment of Carmen’s Habanera perfectly signalling her descent. There is a deliciously dark humour running through this section, which spills over into the final part of the production.
Performed by The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama’s Richard Burton Company, there exists an array of ability amongst the actors. Whilst none are poor, the skill level increases with each section, peaking dramatically with Lola Petticrew and Aly Cruickshank’s performance which brings an energy previously absent. The dynamic between the two is explosive, teetering on a knife’s edge, but Petticrew in particular is entirely captivating, causing former characters to seem one dimensional in her compellingly authentic portrayal of a psychopathic child trafficker.
Many issues are raised throughout the evening, throwing a damning condemnation on humanity and the immorality which lurks beneath a seemingly benign surface. Each story is left without resolution, invoking the audience’s imagination to weave together a suitable ending, and decide which path each character will choose to follow, although with only the darker side of each character shown, there seems little hope of a happy ending for any of them. A somewhat desolate ending to a miscellany of entertainment.