Pros: Engaging performances.
Cons: A weak script full of meandering chat.
Carol and Sue are lifeguards. You can tell because they wear sweaters with ‘lifeguard’ printed on them, and they sit on chairs facing an imaginary ocean. But other than the moment when Sue rushes into the sea to rescue what turns out to be a carrier bag (“£10 says it’s Tesco,” bets Carol), there’s nothing about their behaviour, conversation or outlook that relates to this occupation. It’s their own lives that need safeguarding.
An unnamed metal detectorist sweeps the beach, after letting his imaginary dog off its leash. (The dog never returns.) Unseen by Carol and Sue, he hides coins in the sand for himself to find later; unseen by the detectorist, Sue, who yearns for him but who is too embarrassed to make contact, hides her own coins for him.
Carol (Amy Ambrose), bitter about her failing marriage and cynical about life, deflates every optimistic statement made by Sue (Kathryn Gardner, who also wrote the play). “Love is warm and safe,” says Sue; “Like a bus shelter,” replies Carol.
The metal detectorist (Joshua Ruhle) is the only one of the three to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly, which he does through a series of meandering and pointless monologues. “I found some car wash tokens once,” he says. “Do you remember the old ring pulls? It was a good day when they got rid of those.” He laments the fact that metal detectors aren’t cool any more, and keeps everything he finds to avoid littering. Most of his thoughts are vague and aimless: “I always think white cars look like they haven’t been coloured in yet.”
When Sue and the detectorist eventually strike up what passes for a conversation, she’s unable to use any of her prepared chat about coins and all he can do is spout useless facts. There is a poignancy in the pair’s crippling inability to make contact, and their catastrophic failure to connect.
Treading Water bills itself as “A hilarious, heart wrenching comedy full of belly laughs,” but I and the rest of the audience failed to raise even a titter during the tedious 50-minute performance. Inconsequential chat doesn’t make for great theatre, and only one or two of the weak jokes produce anything more than a half smile.
Author: Kathryn Gardner
Director: Genevieve Hulme-Bearman
Producer: Subtle Paws (subtlepaws.co.uk)
Booking until: 4 March
Box Office: 07598 676202
Booking Link: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/treading-water/