The Water Carriers | Melbourne Theatre CompanyLeft – Damien Richardson and Sarah Sutherland. Photos – Paul Dunn

The Water Carriers is one of those surprising works that ends in an emotional space entirely different to that in which it begins, and pleasantly, it takes its audience along with it.

Playwright Ian Wilding has crafted a work that initially presents two apparently shallow characters in a familiar scenario of a one-night stand. All things considered, it is not a situation in which emotional matters or inner thoughts would generally be shared. However, throughout this play, the characters are forced to confront the events of their past that haunt them to this day. Under the direction of Anne Browning and through the performances of Damien Richardson and Sarah Sutherland, the two characters with which we are presented at the beginning of the play are brought to life, and they and their stories prove to be complex, human, and very real indeed.

Dave (Richardson) wears clingy sateen underpants and is a self proclaimed “Gladiator of Love.” He’s a socialite who owns a karaoke bar and enjoys getting wildly drunk, but at forty something years old, even drinking doesn’t have the same affect it used to. One night Dave brings back to his bachelor pad a rather drunk Kate (Sutherland). She says she only came back to his place for coffee, but Dave can’t believe that a woman with killer legs, blonde hair, push up bra, and stilettos, doesn’t want more. In fact, Kate doesn’t want a bar of Dave, at least not in the way that he is hoping. Instead, amidst her constant blank stares and one-word answers, it gradually becomes apparent that Kate is more than just a hairdresser, who’s been having “lots of sex recently.” Rather mysteriously, she knows things about Dave. She knows that they have more than just their partying ways in common, and for this she is, in her own way, going to make Dave pay.

Surfaces of shiny black, sparkling glass, clean lines, and everything modern – this is Dave’s sleek out door entertaining area. It is the only part of Dave’s house to which we are privy but it is, one assumes, much like the rest of it. At its centre is a sunken, rectangular swimming pool. A black bar stands behind it with glasses, and bottles of alcohol, perfectly in line, and two designer – and rather uncomfortable looking – sun lounges are on either side. Marg Horwell, with the aid of Richard Vabre’s subtle lighting, has created a space that is showy and void of anything really personal, one that is both a reflection and product of Dave’s own lifestyle.

For quite some time this play, though humorous, doesn’t seem to go anywhere or have the potential to do so. Slowly however, it develops intrigue, suspense, and drama. To begin, Dave, though at times endearing, is full of hollow statements and pick up lines and he soon becomes fairly irritating. Although he does genuinely seem to want to make a connection with Kate on a level other than just the physical, Kate does little but push her breasts out and stare. But, just in time, Kate starts to ask Dave the big questions: “Why are you alive?” and “Do you feel lucky?” These are not just Kate’s drunken musings, these are questions directed specifically at Dave, and she wants them answered.

Reluctantly, Dave is forced to admit that he has survived through two catastrophic events – the Bali bombings, and then two years later the Thailand tsunami – and the guilt he feels for having done so, and for not having been able to do more to save the lives of others at the time, still torments him. Depicting real events in a play, and fairly recent ones at that, can be a tricky business, but in this work it is treated with a refreshing lack of sentimentality. Dave’s recount of what he went through is at once clinical, muddled, and anguished. Though he seeks it, he will get no comfort – physical or verbal – from Kate. She may, to a certain extent, be able to relate to his experience, even the pain he feels, but as both Dave and Kate’s monologues demonstrate, the responsibility of dealing with their individual burdens and loss is in a sense no ones but their own.

Throughout this play there is an unrelenting feeling of tension, and rather interestingly, the pool at the centre of the set (one of many references to water and liquid) is integral to this. It creates a physical divide between Kate and Dave as they question and probe one another from opposite sides of the pool, but it is also a constant threatening presence; as Kate teeters precariously on her heels, there’s the feeling that at any moment she could slip and fall into the darkness below, and finally, that it will become the place where potentially, an act of punishment – self inflicted, or on one another – may mean the difference between life and death.

As do many of the better plays, here the work of the writer, director and performers blend into one – this is quite simply a slick production with the content to match. Whilst there are a few opening night dialogue mix-ups, these certainly do little to detract from the play. Both performers grow into their roles as the play progresses and will no doubt continue to do so as the season goes on. Richardson particularly displays great versatility as he reveals the layers of his character, and in his monologue, those of memory and emotion.

This is a play that starts off apparently about sex, even the pursuit of love, but somewhere along the way it becomes about the search for something or someone that will put an end to the pain from the events of the past. For Kate and Dave that may be the realisation that sometimes, no one is to blame.

Melbourne Theatre Company
The Water Carriers
by Ian Wilding

Venue: The MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio
Dates: 22 June – 23 July 2011
Tickets: from $35 (Under 30’s $25)
Bookings: (03) 8688 0800 |

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