Left – Geoff Kelso. Cover – Alison Whyte and John Howard. Photos – Gary Marsh.
Rising Water, Tim Winton’s first foray into playwriting, is a strong, thought-provoking addition to Black Swan State Theatre Company’s 2011 Season. Directed by Kate Cherry, it is an intense play, filled with meaty chunks of dialogue and introverted monologues. Outstanding technical elements compliment some fine acting from the six strong cast members.
Col (Geoff Kelso), Baxter (John Howard) and Jackie (Alison Whyte) live on boats moored alongside each other in a Fremantle marina, abiding by the jetty’s rule of “see no evil, hear no evil”. All of them are trying to escape from their problems. On Australia Day an inebriated English backpacker Dee (Claire Lovering) enters their lives and irrevocably changes the dynamics between the three loners.
Rising Water is a thinker’s play. You aren’t able to sit back and relax or let your mind wander. The dialogue ranges from light-hearted banter about living on a boat, to the more serious topics of racism, families (or lack there of), sense of belonging, Australia day, young mothers, heartbreak and mystery.
The story primarily focuses on Baxter and his secret past. Howard plays Baxter as a tortured soul, managing to portray him brilliantly as depressed and despondent without tipping over into melodramatic. Kelso as Col is the light relief, in a portrayal I felt he’s played before (albeit well). Apart from a few opening night nerves, it was magnificent ensemble acting particularly amongst the trio, with the characters bouncing words off each other in rapid fire succession.
Jackie is a mysterious character, and Winton has written the part well, revealing little clues in the text, but not enough to satisfy. Whyte is feisty as Jackie, full of pent up anger and hurt and was impressive to watch. As Dee, newcomer Claire Lovering was also remarkable – alternating between being asleep and spewing forth drunken obscenities that I’m sure killed a few brain cells. It is a brilliant role for a recent WAAPA graduate; the character is unrestrained, intoxicated, manic, and has a notable monologue that had the audience squirming in their seats.
The writing is pure Winton. Rich in imagery, passionate about topical issues, full of intellect, and chock full of references to Fremantle, Perth, and Western Australia. I wonder what will happen when the show tours (as it no doubt will) – will the references be updated, and will it lose something because of it? Regardless, many of the light-hearted moments were gained by poking fun (or making pertinent comments) about a local issue that everyone in the audience could relate to.
Matt Scott’s lighting design beautifully captured the west coast light, particularly at dusk, whilst Iain Grandage’s sound design and composition was a mixture of melodious minor tones contrasted with classic Australia day FM radio tunes.
Christina Smith's set is exquisite. The basic concept consists of three boats moored to a jetty behind and right. The boats are designed in such a way that they move under the actors’ feet. To be picky, they don’t move quite like a boat would floating on the water, but it’s a small complaint, and the impression the audience receives is still highly effective.
Col’s yacht Goodness is in the process of getting a new mast erected, and the prone pole causes no end of trouble with the other jetty travellers (all effectively played by Stuart Halusz). Jackie’s boat Mercy is a beautiful sleek wooden sloop, whilst Baxter lives in a run down, in desperate need of a lick of paint, sailboat called Shirley. High up on Shirley’s mast are the fruits of Baxter’s harbour junk trawls; a bicycle, a stop sign, a shopping trolley. From the moment the audience walks in and sees the boats, they say so much about each owner, and as Smith mentions in her program notes, they really are the other characters in the play.
I have no doubt this play will resonate with people – in both good and bad ways. Rising Water is a great first play from Winton, full of meaty text and thought provoking topics. This is one for theatre goers who like their words and who want to ponder over the show long after the applause has died down.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
by Tim Winton
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 25 June – 17 July 2011
Tickets: Standard $64.50 | Concession $49.50
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 | www.bocsticketing.com.au