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Treading Water

by on 2 March 2018

Treasure on the Beach

Treading Water

by Kathryn Gardner

Subtle Paws at Brick Hall, The Vaults, Waterloo, until 4th March

Part of The VAULT Festival

Review by Melissa Syversen

Treading Water is several things. It is a quirky love story, a piece of slice-of-life theatre and a story about human interactions. It is mainly about Sue and Carol, two female bodyguards who spend their days on the beach keeping an eye out for distressed swimmers and other visitors to the beach. It is a slow job which involves mostly sitting, watching and waiting for something to happen. Carol is the savvier of the two, quick-witted and with a no-nonsense approach to things, whereas Sue is the sweet, well-meaning if ditzy one of the pair. She also happens to have a crippling crush on the play’s third character, a metal detector enthusiast who walks his dog every morning whilst looking for coins and other bits and bobs in the sand.


We meet these three on what seems to be a day much like any other. As is with well-established routines, all three have their little rituals: making tea, hiding coins in the sand to attract the man with the metal detector and making bets whether it is a Tesco bag or another type of shopping bag bobbing up and down in the ocean. One difference is that it is Carol’s birthday and the consequent presence of a seemingly innocuous carrot cake. One could make the point that these characters and their dynamics might not be the most original, but I would argue that that is kind of the point. These characters and this piece are so affecting and wonderfully funny because we recognize who they are. We all know people like this and can also see ourselves in them. Be it being so in love with someone you can barely talk to them, being so painfully awkward and shy you would rather spend your days looking for tiny treasures in the sand or hiding your personal pain and vulnerability behind a guise of wit and cynical realism.


There are two clear strengths in Treading Water. The writing is tight, with a clear structure and dialogue that beautifully ebbs and flows much like the ocean evoked throughout the piece. Every now and then the man with the metal detector breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audiences in short soliloquies, offering some insight into his personality and thoughts. I was left very impressed by writer and performer (she also plays Sue) Kathryn Gardner’s ability to capture the silent pathos that can be found in everyday conversation. It especially comes through in moments regarding Carol and her husband, something Sue, ever the romantic keeps bringing up.


These moments, especially a later one, is beautifully acted by Amy Ambrose as Carol. Which brings me to the other strength, the acting. I have some thoughts and theories on what differentiates the good actor from the bad one. I won’t bore you with all of them but a key one is how the actor deal with silence. What they do when their character is not speaking or not in focus. Treading Water is full of silences, be it a lull in conversation or a character moving around in the background as others are talking. All three actors are clearly comfortable and present in these moments of silence and inhabit and fill them with small moments of human everyday behaviour. A particularly good moment was watching Joshua Ruhle as the metal detector enthusiast very slowly and deliberately wipe his nose with his finger and then, with the same quite deliberation, wipe of his finger with his other finger. Another was Sue and the man looking for coins together in silence. It just demonstrates again (to me at least) that watching someone just be, whether alone or quietly interacting with someone can be just as engaging and affecting as the most gorgeously written texts. More than once during the one-hour run-time did I find myself thinking of other plays of similar feeling and themes, I especially kept remembering Nice Fish by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins.


As I said in the beginning, Treading Water is many things. It is a story of patience, of friendship, of delicate humanity and taking the opportunity to make the things you want to happen when they present themselves. It is freezing outside but Treading Water will warm you right up with its gentle tenderness and endearing humour and charm.

Melissa Syversen
March 2018

Photography by James McInnes 




From → Drama, Fringe, Reviews

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