Thursday 15th November

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Pool @ Jack Studio Theatre

| Culture, Hidden London, Theatre, Venues | 02/06/2014

Darren Beaumont
Darren Beaumont // Photo credit: Tim Stubbs Hughes
Rating:

Showing until June 7, 2014 // The Write Now Festival

As always, setting the scene is a vital aspect of a visit to The Jack. This time, literally stepping into a Hockney-esque painted ‘pool’ can feel quite disconcerting. The attractive and effective set by David Shields makes full use of Amy Mae Smith’s transcendent lighting; birthing those lovely rippling reflections of sunlight-on-water. Kate Bannister comments that “the designers have done a cracking job…” and likewise the director. The sound-scaping by Mark Webber is exemplary.

‘Pool’ is a charming ensemble piece with – again as is usual at The Jack – a suitably strong cast. Rachel Howells makes for a chirpy and ballsy Steph. Alex Scott Fairley as Trevor gives a clear, strident performance; responsive and affecting. The first half bobs along buoyantly, with lots of gentle humour. It strikes one that the concept would translate superbly to a popular TV sitcom, though this is far better than a night in front of the TV (never mind the adjoining gastro-pub). First-time playwright Tom Harvey may take that as a backhanded compliment. ‘Pool’ initially seems to ramble-on about nothing in particular but there’s more beneath the glimmering surface. In reference to mental health issues for example, Harvey considers “a theme of being just under the water or just above it…”

Joshua Okusanya // Photo credit: Tim Stubbs Hughes

Likewise, the play levers-up those tired old preconceptions of race that force one to question was it ever thus. Even last week a friend of mine was asked at a London bus stop whereabouts in Nigeria she was from – and what about her husband? Ashley, the token though never tokenistic black guy, becomes increasingly engaged and spirited as the story progresses, in a deceptively measured performance by Joshua Okusanya. ‘Pool’ further dips into class and gender issues in analysis of cross-societal interaction c1997.

Alan Booty // Photo credit: Tim Stubbs Hughes

Double roles of spectres, unrelated except for demise, are realised by Alan Booty, boasting some of the best lines to boot – “You can’t change what happened but you can change what it means.” As Mr Kass he’s bloody brilliant – a touch of the King, a touch of Il Commedatore – kicking-off the second half robustly. It’s with the two-handers that ‘Pool’ comes into its own. These include drunken episodes with the troubled Rob summoning his ghosts quite literally from the depths. Darren Beaumont who plays Rob explains that it’s because “the dialogue comes so naturally [that] it’s easy to find a truth in it…” Meanwhile, the pool transposes not only as a pooled memory but the primeval soup from which we all derive. Literary Manager David Bottomley observes that “the pool is as important as one of the characters…” It is one of the characters.

The groundwork in the first half is put to good use in the second. Drawing upon folk traditions, Mr Slade is very nearly the archetypal villain whom we love to hate. And we side with the working-class heroes defending their ground/pool. Solipsistic Slade pulls them to pieces prior his baptism of fire or water; the latter settling on his brain, causing waves of laughter. Congratulations to Jonathan Kemp on another triumph following his ‘Offie’ Nomination for ‘Irma Vep’. But Harvey is too close to his progenies, and his over-sympathetic hand fails to jolt us. There’s the propensity for a bigger splash. Or smash, if found that ‘splinter of ice’.

Abandoned Fountain // Photo credit: Martin Slidel

I was fortunate to be there for an affable Q&A with writer and cast that proffered many fascinating insights. Unbeknown to me, ‘Pool’ is based on a once-existing place – the former Southwark Park Lido. This immediately recalled the image of its unfathomably ostracised water-feature: outside the now-converted gallery, it appeared the most interesting artwork there.

Judging by the full house and lively interaction ‘Pool’ is enjoying a popular run. So get off the sofa and dive in.

10 minutes from Honor Oak Park – 4 stops on the Overground from Canada Water.

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