The River

Mon 18th – Fri 22nd November 2013

reviews

Josie Benge

at 09:47 on 20th Nov 2013

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Dramsoc’s first full-length piece of the year comes in the form of Jez Butterworth’s ‘The River,’ an intimate, sophisticated play set solely within a countryside cabin. In it, we see the relationships between the elusively titled ‘Man’ (Ben Schroder), ‘The Woman,’ (Letty Thomas) and ‘The Other Woman,’ (Robyn Wilson) unfold. The way in which the characters speak is quite peculiar, and takes some getting used to, as intimate dialogues are interspersed with lofty, literary passages. However, where a lesser production might have struggled under the weight of the language, this one carries the script beautifully.

This is due mainly because of the strong performances of the cast, who work very well together and also shine independently during their characters’ monologues. Schroder plays his impulsive, flawed, romantic character with great confidence and vivacity, and the two female parts complement one another excellently. Thomas portrays a dignified, caring and witty woman with breath-taking ease. Wilson’s character is sassier and altogether darker, but I was pleased to see that the two characters are nuanced and developed enough to escape falling into categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

Some of the scenes come across as more natural than others, and occasionally the actors’ movements are a little awkward. These moments only stick out, however, because the direction is so good overall. A particularly well executed section is the exchange between Schroder and Thomas over the dinner table. The way in which they interrupt one another, or pause over the food, authentically conveys both the intimacy and the growing distance between the two characters. However, perhaps one of the most powerful parts is Wilson’s monologue about the couple’s physical relationship which is delivered with brilliant conviction. This is a great example of sex being used to genuinely further and intensify the portrayal of a relationship, rather than as a kind of gratuitous accessory as it can often appear as in other works.

Indeed, the link between physical sensation and emotion comes across very strongly throughout the whole play. The ebb and flow of the play’s action mimics the thrills and lulls of experiences like catching a fish, jumping into an ice cold river, or being in a relationship. Sensory details such as the smell of cooking trout and the use of background countryside noises also really help to draw the audience into the play’s world of heightened sensitivity.

Overall, this was a wholly absorbing, impressive and moving performance, and I look forward to seeing more of Dramsoc’s productions throughout the year.

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Jessica Piette

at 11:15 on 20th Nov 2013

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Last night I had the pleasure of going to see a wonderful production of Jez Butterworth’s ‘The River’ at the little Wardrobe Theatre above the White Bear pub. In the tiny intimate room I was immersed into a strange world of rivers, log cabins and jealous lovers, all the time thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

‘The River’ is a three-person play about a man obsessed with the act of fishing, and the women that he brings with him to his cabin by the river. The play is interested in the power of actions over words, and the interchangeability of desire and hatred. It presents a haunting image of love as something innately possessive and self-destructive. I was truly impressed by the level of acting and direction and at times forgot that I was watching a play. This, in my opinion, is what makes good theatre.

Undoubtedly, Letty Thomas was the shining star of the cast, delivering her lines with such subtlety that she was utterly natural and believable as the funny, quick-witted girlfriend of Butterworth’s solemn fisherman. Robyn Wilson was similarly convincing and funny as “The Other Woman”, playing the part with confidence and zeal, especially standing out in her perfectly delivered speech about sex. Though not the strongest of the three, Ben Schroder carried himself with strength and careful deliberation, making for a frightening presence on the stage. The scenes that worked the best were those in which Thomas and Schroder were chatting, and speaking over each other, and the scene where Wilson was being sketched; both showed careful and effective direction. The changes between the two women were flawless, creating a real sense of eeriness.

Small touches, like cooking a trout on stage, and the sound of water playing in the background really brought the play to life, with the lingering smell of fish acting as an effective reminder of ‘The Man’s creepy obsession with fishing. The only thing that I found troublesome was that I found it hard to believe that Thomas and Wilson’s characters didn’t bolt for the door as soon as Schroder’s character started ranting about killing fish in great detail; he was so completely frightening that it seemed strange that they would act so affectionately towards him.

Overall I was very impressed by this production, and didn’t want it to end. I found it very funny, and I’m sure that the audience agreed, since they were all laughing their heads off! I would certainly like to see more from director Max Kirk, and from the talented cast.

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