The Water Engine, Theatre 503, London SW11
Tuesday 28 June 2005
Produced by Direct Action in collaboration with the Young Vic, and subtitled An American Fable, we are in Depression era Chicago, as the 1934 Century of Progress Exhibition opens. Charles Lang has invented an engine that will run on nothing more than water, and has come to town to have it patented. But soon this idealist finds himself engulfed by the shadowy forces of big business.
It only takes four actors to populate a bustling Chicago in Tom Wright's appropriately inventive production. Pace is of the essence. Characters promenade on the spot, creating a relentless sense of movement.
That Paul Chequer's blinky, nervous, classic American everyman inventor remains constant as Lang, while the other actors transform, only serves to increase our share in his unease as the people he can trust become fewer and further between. Nothing is spared in ratcheting up the tension over the scant hour of the piece.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as the enforcer for the faceless corporation which wants to buy Charles's idea – to exploit it or bury it – has the sinister might of paranoid capitalism in every corner of his rich baritone.
Actors turn percussionists to deliver a vivid series of sound effects, an ingenious and affectionate nod to the radio days of the period, and the play's own origins (written for radio in 1977 and later adapted for the stage). Rattling and clanging on Robert Innes Hopkins' three-sided cage of a set, they create everything from the clamour of a newsroom to the clatter of a period elevator. Props are palmed and mimed, left to our imagination, another nod to the radio of the piece's birth.
David Holmes's lighting design, through an ever-present gossamer gauze of smoke, lends the playing area a sepia tinge – perfect for the period.
In one scene Mamet juxtaposes his central character, who would willingly precipitate the downfall of oil, with a soap-box speaker espousing the virtues of Communism. That Mamet's comments on oil and American capitalism – that give the play a bang-up-to-date feel – are allowed impressive and subtle space to breathe is testimony to this incisive production.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 A third of employers never check job applicants' qualifications, survey finds
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians