Saturday 24 November 2007

Water at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

The squash scene in Water, at the Lyric Theatre, HammersmithGoing to see a play just because it contains a scene involving a squash match admittedly seems a little odd.

A review in the Guardian had caught my eye, and with front-row seats at £13 it would have been rude not to (though I did have suspicions - in a play called Water - why the 'expensive' seats were so cheap ...)

Water at the Lyric Theate, Hammersmith, was unusual in its inventive use of audio-visual effects, most of which were either created or choreographed on stage ...

The play's theme was global warming - specifically the dangers posed by rising sea levels. It centred on a British marine biologist seduced by the greater (and it was hinted - unethical) funding and personal benefits of a north American university and the way he wrestled with his conscience in accepting them.

The biologist's relationship with his son and a sub-plot involving a civil servant working on climate change policy and her relationship with a 'free diver' explored the same themes, and though it often felt that the message was being rammed home, it narrowly avoided being over-earnest through the distraction of the innovative stage effects.

The interweaving of plots meant that we were frequently whisked from the present day back to the 1970s, when the biologist first brought the potential problems of climate change to the attention of a conference audience in Vancouver.

It was one of these flashback scenes that brought the squash court to the stage. Some of the courting (sic) of the biologist by a senior faculty member of the university was done on the squash court, and we see the two men verbally joust over their respective principles (the faculty is being sponsored by a large company not sympathetic to the Brit's environmental views).

We see this in silhouette from behind (see the picture above), with the popping sound effects of the ball being provided by one of the on-stage sound guys.

The use of a squash game as a metaphor for conflict is not exactly new (most recently it was reprised by Ian McKewan in his novel Saturday, and who can forget Michael Douglas getting one over Charlie Sheen in Wall Street?). What struck me was how - watching the two academics try to gain an advantage over one another in their tight shorts and headbands - the game itself was being used to represent the 1970s and (given that the play shifted back and forth in time) "yesteryear" in general.

The execution of the "game" on stage was therefore far more impressive than the recycled metaphor it represented. The other sport represented in the production was free diving, which as a modern sport was depicted as far more cutting edge, though to explain how it may also have been used metaphorically in other ways would be to spoil the ending ...

Squash on stage - you don't see it too often.

Water is showing at the Contact Theatre, Manchester, until 24th November
Read the Guardian review

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