Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The River (Jez Butterworth)

Directed & Performed by: Isolde Penwarden, Emma Riggs, Miranda Slade & Chris Born 
(18th May, 2013)

Genre: Romance/Paranormal

We hear a girl singing. She enters, nudges the table, and begins to read, then moves towards the cabin window to admire the beautiful sunset. This is the setting for “The River”, performed at the Small Studio of Homerton College, up the stairs above the Porter’s Lodge. In a sense it was my first time here, though I had also watched the superbly performed “Pink”, earlier in the term in the main College Auditorium.

A man enters in trenchcoat and fishing gear, pacing up and down as he runs through a checklist. Everything is rehearsed, but not everything is in its place. He has a new girlfriend. And everything new is slightly different. She beckons him to join her at the window. He has seen it all before, and can even describe it in poetry. It is a moment shared which neither will forget. At least it might be, but he does not join her. He averts his gaze, trapped by his own memories. Beauty has become jaded with repetition. All that excites him is the reflected joy he can give in sharing his world with her for the first time.

The cabin provides an idyllic setting for romance, for candlelit evenings after days spent fishing, walking in the forests, or swimming in the mountain pool. But the blossoming of first love is haunted by objects and memories that shatter the fantasy. She has gone fishing before. He has had other girls up at his cabin. How many times? How many times has he made love and said, “I love you”? Where is the first, the girl in the red dress whose image bears no face? Does she even exist? Why do we put so much value in beginnings?

The lesson is one of water that reflects and reflects, and what memories it could recount! But water holds no ghosts of its past. The trout return from the sea each season, each year becoming more beautiful, until one day caught by a fisherman. But the trout above all longs for freedom. So it is with love that would struggle against the net of memories to return to the water. Love without freedom is tragic, haunted by an ever-repeating cycle of disappointment.

Jez Butterworth’s “The River” brilliantly explodes the childish way we value first memories, attributing to them a quality of virginal fantasy. Was this my first experience of Homerton’s fantastic theatre scene? Not quite, but for that it does not make the experience less. Because every play is different, like every love, like every sunset. I certainly hope it will not be my last.

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