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Posted by : Stewart McGill on Sep 04, 2003 - 11:55 AM Archive

By Gavin Rogers
Watermill West Berkshire Playhouse
Tkts: 01635 46044

Runs: 2h, one interval, till 6 September (+ Mat 6 Sept)
Review: Stewart McGill, 2 September 2003

Gripping and thoughtful: crisp and engaging dialogue throughout: a valuable find from this powerhouse of creativity in Berkshire

Gripping and thoughtful: crisp and engaging dialogue throughout: a valuable find from this powerhouse of creativity in Berkshire

Earlier this year Watermill set out to discover new writers of all cultures and backgrounds to submit original plays for the theatre. Of the submissions six were given rehearsed readings, following dramaturgical development, with actors and directors. This event proved to be a highly successful initiative at Watermill and a brave one for a theatre known for a fairly traditional audience base and financially having to keep a secure eye on things. The phrase new writing is the lifeblood of theatre' is overused and up for challenge certainly new writing is a vital strand of contemporary theatre but equally fascinating is how theatres like Watermill are innovative in the re-exploration of classical and music theatre genres. Returning to Watermill for Gavin Rogers THE FOURTH FOLD was an enlightening experience.

One of the eight successful rehearsed readings from the spring initiative, Watermill have given a main performance slot to this work and taken the risk of placing new writing centre stage. It is a bold decision and hopefully, will encourage other writers to consider this address when conceiving ideas for work. The intimate space of the former Watermill serves well for this play set in a variety store in the small coastal resort town of Wildwood, New Jersey, in 2000. Living in the shadow of nearby Atlantic City, this place is dying and small town America a memory, a concept if it ever really existed. Not so much a plot more a shared series of moments in a long, hot summer.

Crisp and engaging dialogue between the three male characters brings into focus themes of loyalty, loss, the search for identity and a sense of history. Shades of Miller and even Martin Scorcesse are present as each character reveals a dreadful truth. Paul Webster as the Jewish shop owner, Benjamin gives a superb performance and his Act 2 wartime Berlin recollection is a tour de force. I have always rated Webster as a fine actor but often overlooked. The Watermill have the knack of revealing the real potential of actors that many other companies can overlook. Here is a heartbreaking return to the nightmare of living in wartime Berlin as a Jew and the fragments of memory evoke chilling moments. Yannick Lawry's Vinnie gives us a mobster who really wants to be a loved human and Darren Cheek, the semi-autobiographical figure of young Brit James, who also carries a nightmare with him.

Will Wollen directs, with only two weeks rehearsal and I saw a preview, a work that may not find itself in the Best Plays of The Year Catalogue, but is gripping and thoughtful throughout. The Watermill's high production values ensure that Libby Watson's design and Lawrence T. Doyle's lighting serve the location atmosphere well and despite a limited run of only 5 performances this does not look like theatre on the cheap. The show suggests still an element of work-in-progress and I say that in a very positive way as I think this needs to be tried and tested on an audience before Gavin Rogers gives it a little final tweak. It belongs at the Watermill and is a statement of intent to serve new writing alongside the other, perhaps more well known, strands of work. I hope that producers from some of the smaller London theatres and regional bases may get to Bagnor this week to see the work with a view to taking it to the next step whilst retaining the creative team and cast and, of course, Watermill stamp.

A fascinating tangent at this time the company have Edward Hall's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the West End without doubt the best since Brook's, a new music theatre work A Star Danced set to premiere in a week of so plus a community tour of Gigolo by Ade Morris. All this plus extensive outreach work. We don't hear enough about the powerhouse of creativity down in Berkshire and I urge readers to make the visit this season and discover an exciting and challenging theatre.


James: Darren Cheek
Vinnie: Yannick Lawry
Benjamin: Paul Webster

Director: Will Wollen
Designer: Libby Watson
Lighting: Lawrence T. Doyle
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