First Night: Pool (No Water), Lyric, Hammersmith, London

Sad lack of depth from a play set in a swimming pool
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When she won the Booker Prize for Possession, the writer A S Byatt excited mild derision among the chattering classes, and envy among her fellow novelists, by disclosing that she intended to use the prize money to build a swimming pool in her French holiday home. Contrast down-to-earth Kingsley Amis who, the year he won the Booker, told the audience at Guildhall that he would blow the booty on new curtains and booze.

Byatt's revelation sprang to my mind last night at the London premiere of pool (no water), a collaboration between the author of Shopping and Fucking, Mark Ravenhill, and the physical theatre company, Frantic Assembly.

Keir Charles, Cait Davis, Leah Muller and Mark Rice-Oxley play four artists who spiral into destructive jealousy when a female friend and erstwhile member of their self-consciously Bohemian group achieves the worldly success and fame that they affect to despise.

The friend's new star status is symbolised by the swimming pool to which they are invited. The Romantic, substance-abusing foursome are so jealous that they even project on to this woman the cause of the death by cancer of another of their friends.

So when Ms Success suffers terrible injuries as a result of a nocturnal dive into the (unbeknown to her) drained pool, schadenfreude and perverted experimentalism get the better of their concern.

In the drama that follows, it is as if the group consciousness in Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves had been crossed with the kind of exploitative behaviour so unflinchingly dramatised by the American playwright and film-maker Neil LaBute in his play, The Shape of Things.

Unfolding in a large, empty, white-tiled pool that doubles as the hospital, the piece shows us the quartet visiting gross indignities on the body of their unconscious friend and trying to make her fate a photographic artwork that will elevate them into media-darlings.

The cast are well-drilled as they pass to one another the baton of the rapid dialogue and throw themselves around in abandoned gestures expressive of their psychological and chemically enhanced states of mind. But pool (no water) is among the most shallow plays I have seen on the topic of envy.

Though Mozart was not as successful in worldly terms, rival composer Salieri burned with a sense of his own inferior talent. Envy, ironically, gave him a heightened understanding of Mozart's genius, as works by Pushkin and Shaffer have shown. But here, Ravenhill, hovering between a satiric and a sympathetic attitude towards the foursome, fails to convince you either that the friend's talent is greater than theirs or that it's her creativity that they resent as opposed to just her wealth, her pool, her porn-star pool-attendant and her drug-dealing personal trainer. pool (no water) should be subtitled "play (no insight)".

Comments