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Camden Fringe: Bitter Water, Collection Theatre

Part of the Camden Fringe 2013
Steve Fitzgerald
Directed by Paul Edward Linghorn 

Pros: Atmospheric, unnerving, good use of sound and light.

Cons: The internal logic behind certain elements isn’t always consistent.

Our Verdict: Enigmatic piece that takes a walk on the dark side.

Courtesy of Pandamonium Performance

Bitter Water is a play that wears its influences openly – German Expressionism, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick – and unapologetic in its non-naturalistic style.

Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit is also a big influence in terms of plot, where a mysterious stranger comes to town with a sinister proposition. In Bitter Water’s version, a gaunt visitor (Steve Fitzgerald) knocks on the door of a woman (Louise Hunt) who is living a secluded existence. It soon becomes clear that this is to keep out the plague that is prevalent in town. We later find out that the stranger is linked to her husband’s illness and, indeed, the misfortunes of the town.

Where the play succeeds is in the use of technical effects to sustain an oppressive mood. Pandamonium Performance (the theatre company who produced this play) has learnt from the stage version of The Woman in Black, that what you hear is the more frightening than what you see. Aside from the occasional unnerving screams, the original music by Andy Feehan – which to my mind was a cross between nu-metal, Thomas Bangalter’s Irreversible film score and the discordant arrangements of Angelo Badalamenti – had the right tone of menace and foreboding.

To my knowledge, this is the first production – off-West End or anywhere else – to use in one instance a moment of intense light (rather like a whiteout effect) to emphasise a moment of intensity. The use of silence, or rather no dialogue, is particularly effective in the beginning, and the sequences of the drinking of the vial of water are disquieting for some reason I’ve yet to put my finger on.

There are, however, some things that don’t work quite so well. When dialogue is first spoken by the stranger, it does break the illusion for the viewer, as does the showing of the outside world later in the play. Later, when the stranger later speaks about the nature of loneliness, God, the Devil and mortality, he sounds like he is paraphrasing the vampire Lestat in Anne Rice’s early books. Furthermore, the stranger – who looks very much like Klaus Kinski’s Nosferatu – doesn’t exhibit natural charm or have emotional leverage over the woman, yet he expects her to be agreeable to his suggestions. Even within the heightened reality of the play, it didn’t make sense or ring true emotionally.

Ignoring these little hiccups, on a purely visual and aural platform, Bitter Water works and remains in one’s thoughts days after.

Seen the show yourself? Agree or disagree? Submit your own review with our Camden Fringe Big Audience Project!

Bitter Water runs at Theatre Collection on August 3rd and 4th 2013.
Box Office: Phone 07966597190 or book online at www.camdenfringe.com

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