WEALTH and prosperity demand the careful nurturing and selective exploitation of key assets. And, when those assets are as liquid as they are in this story, health is almost as important as wealth.
The Loft’s centenary anniversary season has arrived at the point where we’re given a chance to look at ourselves and David Fletcher’s specially constructed Taking The Waters puts the history of the town centre stage in a bold, sweeping and ultimately pleasing slice of reflection.
From the days of natural springs and lavish health claims to the vexed issue of making clean water available for all, the action – such as it is – flits from tiny village to growing town via a modern day lecture theatre and the services of a narrator who then joins the action.
The underlying story is a clear series of questions. Who owns the water? What obligation is there on society to provide a decent standard of health to all? And when is it right to say that what has been accepted so far is no longer acceptable?
Apart from a brief diversion into the lives of a travelling acting troupe, it’s water all the way against the ever-present backdrop of the river which still runs past a few yards from this very stage. Decent costumes, a fine soundtrack and some well-chosen projections are all thrown into the mix.
There’s something inherently laudable in all this but for a play to succeed it has to work as a play; it has to engage and entertain as well as educate. Reams of facts alone won’t cut it.
There is, in truth, not a great deal for the actors to work with. Characters are, with a few joyous exceptions, quite thinly-drawn and the most emotive moments of life and death seem to happen in the wings or are lost in one of the decades we suddenly jump over.
Nevertheless there are good performances notably from Glynis Fletcher, Wendy Morris and the reassuringly reliable Mark Roberts. Too many fluffed lines and uncomfortable pauses robbed the show of the flow it would have wanted but this was a creditable ensemble effort.
Where the dryness of historical lecturing is really improved is in the production elements that the writer imagined from the start. Thought and effort has gone into the staging of this story and it shows.
The chorus of townspeople dance their way between scenes in a highly effective and well-rehearsed series of vignettes. The choreographed reading from the newspapers to speed the action along and offer wry and amusing comment was particularly successful.
It’s images and impressions that will probably stay longest in the mind rather than anything that’s said or that actually happens.
It’s hard to see a future for Taking The Waters. There’s no compelling dramatic message or first-rate acting parts to tempt future directors to revive it. But as a one-off celebration of the ups and downs the town has had to experience to get where it is this is a thoroughly worthwhile and surprisingly pleasing watch.
Taking The Waters runs until July 23.