Melbourne Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company
The Playhouse, the Arts Centre
9 August 2011
to 10 September
I love Tim Winton's books. His writing reminds me why I will happily miss watching people on a stage if I can sit on the couch with some cushions, my cats and a lot of words in a book.
Black Swan from Perth and our own MTC have produced Winton's first play, Rising Water (Cloudstreet was an adaption of his book). If you love Winton's novels, the writing and the sound of the text is familiar and, at first, comforting – but theatre writing is a very different beast from prose and there's already a lot of debate about whether Winton has caught and freed, or squished and barbequed this beast.
Like much of Winton's works, Rising Water is about loners and the ocean. Baxter (John Howard), Col (Geoff Kelso) and Jackie (Alison Whyte) have run to the edge of Australia and are living on their boats in a Freemantle marina, when a pissed British tourist turns up with her huge backpack, tiny shorts and observation that Perth is the whitest place in the world. Which it is.
Christina Smith's design brings us so close to the Freeo docks that I felt a pang of nostalgia for the Freeo markets and coffee that tastes a bit like the sea. The three boats float and rock on the stage as black as the still night ocean and it's almost a shock to realise that it's not water.
But the stunning realism is corroded by the forced symbolism of the text (the mysterious row boat boy, needing to drown to live, the mast that can't get an erection...) and characters who say so much, but don't let us see much beyond our first impression. It may make me cry if I read it, but our ears don't read and hearing this text is a struggle, especially as we can see so much of what it's saying.
See it for the cast and the design, but please don't think that Rising Water represents Tim Winton's writing and make sure you read something like Breath.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.