Theatre review: Water at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre

A brilliant piece of devised theatre and doesn’t contain a single dull moment

Water, Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

5 stars

Devised theatre is rarely mediocre. Like the girl in the nursery rhyme it is either very very good or horrid. Happily, Water, created by theatre company Filter, is brilliant.

The piece follows two stories – that of Graham Johnson, a misanthropic environmental officer who suffers from depression – and Claudia Ford, a hard-nosed civil servant who is ‘better off alone’. Johnson’s father, we learn, was a marine biologist and Claudia is one of the delegates at a climate change summit in Vancouver with a cave diver boyfriend. Water is everywhere in the production and it defines the boundaries of the characters’ lives – even if they don’t, themselves, realise it.

Ferdy Roberts plays Graham Johnson, and occasionally his father Peter as well. Roberts as Graham is nervy and jittery – a Mummy’s boy at 38 – who is suddenly called to Vancouver to attend his estranged father’s funeral. He is intensely irritating but not entirely unsympathetic – and Roberts’ performance is entirely captivating.

Claudia is played by Victoria Moseley as an up-tight career-woman defined by her pencil skirt and her blackberry.

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But this is an ensemble production and Moseley and Roberts’ performances are only one part of David Farr’s fast-paced creation.

Tim Phillips creates all kinds of sound-magic using a laptop, pedals and a baffling array of wires. The performers create sound by flicking their cheek, running a finger around a wine glass, tapping microphones, and speaking through amplifiers. As one character descends into an underwater cave we hear his heart beat, the whoosh of his oxygen cylinders and a computerised voice recording his depth. An utterly compelling piece of sound artistry.

Filter theatre company have also mastered the art of incorporating technology, not just into the staging of their shows but also into the stories they tell. Video calls and answer machines are integral to the plot of Water and their inclusion doesn’t feel at all contrived. Stage manager, Jess Gow, does a phenomenal job keeping track of the multitude of props involved and of knowing which piece of equipment is need when.

The one unsteady element of the evening was the title. The two stories at the centre of the evening have force enough without needing to be grouped under the umbrella of ‘Water’ – water may be a conspicuous presence in their lives but it does not define them. This theme clearly inspired the piece and gave David Farr and Filter a scaffold for the devising – but like scaffolding, the title should have been taken away and water should have been demoted to a motif. This isn’t a play about Water, it’s about misanthropy and the tug of love. But this is semantics: Water is a brilliant piece of devised theatre and doesn’t contain a single dull moment. It scoops you up, carries you along like a wave and then deposits you, panting, back into the theatre as the lights come up.