Review: Taking the Waters at Northcote Town Hall

By Grant Virtue


This play is the story of three sisters and how they cope with the ending of one of their lives. It is a heartfelt journey of discovery, pain, and ultimately separation. It focusses on their ability to come to terms with an impending new dynamic.


The play is set in a suburban family home in current times. The set design by Yvette Turnbull is fantastic. A funky 50's style kitchen and hallway with a bedroom off to one side. The lighting design by Rachel Burke accentuates the set and moves seamlessly throughout the play. It creates a mood and highlights the passage of time.


The play opens with a hauntingly beautiful song of longing and sorrow, the actors cradling a lifeless body. It's from here you quickly realise that this piece is going to pluck a few heartstrings.


Fiona Macleod is Chook, the pragmatic do-er. I feel that she is the older sister, although this is never stated. She appears to have taken her sister into her home to provide palliative care. Fiona is a strong actor but I did find her voice a little staccato at first. She warmed up as time went on. Suzannah Espie is Maggie, the musical drifter. She has a lovely natural acting style and is very believable. She provides the relief and certainly gets the laughs with her casual style. It is her singing voice and musicality that surprises and offers respite from the heavy themes going on around us.


Then there is Duck. Duck is the youngest sister and is a life-size puppet. She is no lesser an actor than the other sisters and is a powerful and harrowing lifeforce. Yvette Turnbull also masterfully created Duck who appears in full form as well as a shadow puppet. I found her the most engaging presence on stage. There is, also a smaller version of Duck that wanders almost ghostlike throughout the play. Like she is on a journey, listening, aware, conscious.


Kyoko Imazu has created an almost cinematic experience with the shadow and bunraku puppets. Scenes of great empathy and, indeed, the stuff of nightmares. Pure magic. Perfectly supported by Marco Cher-Gibard's haunting soundscape.


Tamara Rewse plays the District Nurse and also brings to life smaller Duck. She is perfectly succinct and candid in her role as a District Nurse (something dear to my heart), she plays it well and provides the practical support when it's needed.


One of the things I liked about this play was the palpable passage of time, both as a friend and as an enemy. Making the most of the time you have together but yearning for relief, and at what cost?.


A lot of plays about death and dying tend to bolster hope and become too philosophical, but I found that this play did not. Which is due to the skill of Writer and Director Sarah Kriegler. I found this take very refreshing and deeply rooted in the present. No fluff and indeed not a lot of dialogue. It was, and is, the spaces between the dialogue that have the most meaning. It also is a play about coping, how we cope, the things we do or don't do. Who and what we leave behind. This is not a play about hope, it is a play about terminality, and that's the way it should be.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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