By Bella Thompson
Appropriately opening to the public on the 105th anniversary of his execution in 1914, “Water” is the story of Carl Hans Lody – tour guide, green grocer, spy.
From his life as an orphan child to his work in a green grocer, his near death experience with typhoid fever and his “brief and anxious career as a spy” during the First World War, German spy Carl Hans Lody (‘Hans’ to both his friends and enemies) narrates his own story and confides in the audience as a diary through his increasingly precarious vocation.
Written and directed by Mark Langham (who also features in the cast) “Water” reads similarly to a first person novel, the audience following the perspective of Lody and offered insight to his nervous and overly eager disposition in frequent asides. Langham’s direction is somewhat inconsistent within the playing of different characters – those in the ensemble acting as one dimensional cartoons with little depth, while Lody (played by Stephen Lloyd-Coombs) is able to develop as the story progresses, and comes off as earnest and authentic.
The cast hopped skillfully through a myriad of characters – with the three ensemble members playing over twelve different people over the course of the one act play, where each new character we were introduced to was more of a caricature than the last. Aiding in the somewhat stereotyped characterizations were countless accents that were largely quite impressive (although there was one purposefully shrill and painful French that we can ignore). Praise must be given to all for their efforts on that front but particularly so to Lloyd-Coombs who managed to step effortlessly back and forth through stiff and proper English and the strongly generic General American.
Lib Campbell’s pleasant and strong-willed Ida McClyment made a congenial but fleetingly short-lived match with Lody after his near exposure on a train journey. Campbell’s Ida, as well as her elderly and aggressively Scottish land-lady Mrs McCready, delivered some of the funniest lines f the show (that famous Scottish wit shining through dead-pan sarcastic remarks) – no small feat in a play that had the audience shouting with laughter in almost every scene.
Sophie Pekbilimli’s stop/start lighting cutting between scenes like photo slides certainly wasn’t the prettiest of lighting designs but it did the job and was well matched to the equally sudden transitions between each location. Being lurched through what felt like an average of five locations in as many minutes (and back and forth through two main lighting states to accompany each section) induced a bit of motion sickness and failed to do any more than make it very clear that we were indeed speeding through Lody’s life without much time left to catch our breath.
A few lovely intimate moments where Lody steps to the edge and off the stage were, however, particularly well lit; a spotlight casting a sepia toned filter over the stage, which matched the vintage mood and the aged newspapers that served as wallpaper for the largely bare set. Though short, the sections of monologue in this state concealed the ensemble and allowed the audience to have a private moment with Lody before being thrown back into the narrative.
Stephen Lloyd-Coombs is utterly endearing as the German spy Carl Hans Lody, the charm and polite manner to everyone he encounters (including when being led to his execution) manage to balance the slightly pathetic awkwardness of the man we were allowed to see when not undercover. The nuanced facial expressions of Lloyd-Coombs – tiny blips where we can see everything happening in the mind of the man behind the spy – were perfectly matched for the incredibly intimate venue, where the audience was able to pick up every micro-expression. Such subtle intricacies would never have been able to carry through in a larger theatre – let alone add so much to our understanding of the purpose and honor Lody was so desperate for.
Through a highly amusing show that had everyone chuckling in their seats, there was complete silence for the final moments where we were forced to say goodbye to the man who floundered his way through the war and into our affections. The dramatic shift in tone was something I wasn’t prepared for and had me on the edge of my seat hoping for a deus ex machina to appear and save Lody – Hans, if I may - from his inevitable end.
The show itself feels as though it is still somewhat in development – another workshop to clean up the progression of the narrative could only make it better. Even so, overall this is a highly enjoyable show, with a lovable fool at its heart. Though he was “not the usual type one associates with espionage,” the audience clearly liked him, and as Langham says himself in his Director’s note: “How could you not?”
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.