When watching Jez Butterworth’s The River only one thing is certain. You are in for a play that sets you, as much as the characters, on a quest to solve a perhaps unsolvable puzzle: love, or fishing?
This play is a rare gem, which will toy with your thoughts and emotions, while not failing to make you laugh out loud. Since its charm lies in its mystery, not too much shall be revealed here. The play starts slowly and relatively straight-forwardly. We are in a cabin on the river. The Man (Charlie Tyrer) professes his passion for fishing sea trout, particularly on a precise moonless night each year. He wishes to share this with the woman (Megan Thresh). That night is tonight. This is a scene, where the excitement of one person will not infect the other immediately, but then catches on and brings the two closer together. Or so we think. In scene 2, things look less clear. The Man agitatedly calls the police that the woman has gone missing, but in the middle of the call she reappears. Only that it is another woman (Ella Jackson), or is it?
From then on, the play which starts a little slowly, picks up pace. Scenes change increasingly quickly. Congratulations must go to director, Tallulah Vaughan, and assistant director, Emily Bell, for finding ways to clearly link together segments that the audience might otherwise fail to piece together. Props (fish, scarlet dress, etc.) and words provide a clear anchor for the audience. And the cast never misses a cue. The simple set, centred on a big wooden table in the middle, and creative props are efficient in structuring the play. It also helps the cast to make perfectly timed scene changes.
Perhaps the biggest achievement a cast can wish for in a play that toys so much with the audience’s perceptions is to keep the audience’s attention. And did it have our attention. You could not only feel the suspense in the room but also its comic relief in frequent bursts of laughter, evinced by the crisp, colourful language and countless descriptions of ‘fishing’.
Charlie Tyrer’s range of facial expressions and physicality are superb and bring out the elusive, slightly psychopathic character of The Man. Megan Thresh and Ella Jackson are incredibly gifted in portraying the wide range of emotions their characters go through on stage. Megan Thresh’s skilful portrayal of The Woman’s passive aggressive distance to The Man in certain scenes is particularly worthy of praise, and so is Ella Jackson’s superb ability to shift between a wide range of emotions from an instant to the next.
In sum, The River is a must-see play. While I cannot guarantee that you will know all the answers by the time the lights go out, I can guarantee that you will be captivated by this spectacular performance for far more than the roughly 70mins that it lasts. Go buy your tickets now!