WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews A man and a woman in a fishing shack. Another woman, impervious to the first, on another time plane. A sea trout to be salted and cooked with vegetables. A murder to ponder, a mystery in the mists of time. Jez Butterworth's new play does not lend itself easily to analysis, or indeed summary. But it's as taut as a wire and as tense as a thriller.
It would be pointless to declare the piece less good, epic, or entertaining than
; the troubled waters have once more closed over the forest clearing, as in his earlier plays, and Butterworth and his redoubtable interpretative trio of director Jerusalem Ian Rickson, designer Ultz and composer Stephen Warbeck have once again concocted an outdoor poetic riddle with indoor emotions.
The mood is heavy with foreboding, but the prime purpose here is the grappling to the floor of the mystical pleasures and significance of fly fishing. The play’s title is shared with a Ted Hughes collection, and indeed Hughes is directly quoted (“I waded, deepening, and the fish listened for me. They watched my each move through their magical skins”), along with W B Yeats; the play’s epigraph comes from T S Eliot’s Burnt Norton in
But this literacy is worn lightly in the wound-up, elliptical prose of Butterworth’s unnamed fisherman, played with an off-setting charm and physical vigour by
Dominic West, like a Pinter character in a watery dreamland where an ethereal, siren-like Miranda Raison and a more directly affable and affectionate (and Irish) Laura Donnelly come and go like alternate girlfriends, alter egos, returning ghosts.
None of them are quite in the present, and the mood is undoubtedly set as a result of the automatic recollections they share, not least West’s extraordinary long speech about catching a trout when he was seven years old, losing it, diving in after it, and finding something else. The play is a sinister compendium of fisherman’s tales, river lore and even a third century instruction manual. Miranda Raison & Dominic West in The River. Photo: John Haynes
This is one of those rare plays where nothing can be divulged without harming the individual’s response within a breath-holding audience, even allowing for the absurdity of the play being so hard to get into. It’s best to enjoy the spirit of the fish, and the sport, and the feelings of fate and of fear that are described by all three characters.
Just as a singing wood nymph heralded
Jerusalem, so another unidentified sprite leads us gently through the night, singing the Yeats poem (“I went out to a hazel wood because a fire was in my head”) and teasing a heart of stone in the darkness. It’s not as pretentious as it may sound; for the play is finally about feeling, and comprehensibly so, though still very dead-of-night strange and disturbing. - by Michael Coveney