The Water Rats, London – until 14 August 2019
A young woman sits alone on a stage, speaking with a chirpy manner into the dead lens of a video camera.
An office employee sits before two of his superiors. He protests that, as a single father, he needs his salary to be paid on time, yet cannot shift the topic of conversation beyond the ramifications of jelly beans.
A football manager introduces his new signing to the press. The new boy does not speak English but, as he gains confidence, his lyrical musings on his home country are mistranslated into banal, clichés by his interpreter. Meanwhile, the manager defies the stock answers expected by the press and holds forth on a variety of subjects, from family tragedy to Mary and Joseph entering Bethlehem.
Two figures, male and female, stand on stage, paper bags over their heads. As we learn about their relationship, common ground is laid out yet neither is able to cross it.
Amid the noises of a warzone, an English couple are shown around a property they wish to purchase by a local. They seem to get on well with this sensitive young man, a poet, who recoils from his experience of working in a slaughterhouse. The only obstacle is their son, a child in an adult’s body. His burden on their future is felt – they speak to him but he doesn’t listen, doesn’t understand.
A lecherous conservationist sits across from a woman. He explains to her the various attempts to find a mate for the last female panda but drifts repeatedly into the banality of his own life. The woman sits, tapping a computer tablet, supremely disinterested in his explanation. The panda sits, waiting for her turn to speak.
Ross Howard‘s six short plays are set in worlds that are burlesques on absurdism. Relationships don’t so much fail to work as unnervingly malfunction. The theme of parenting is present but these are not happy worlds: suffer the little children!
Above all, we see repeated the theme of being unable to communicate. Pleading or cajoling voices are mere whistles in the wind to mute cameras, Kafkaesque monomaniacs, money-motivated interpreters, estranged or introverted sons and unheeding humans.
These worlds are not anarchic: reason is here – it’s just not heeded. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, ‘If a lion could talk, we could not understand him’. Here, the expression of that sentiment is left to a panda.