American Theresa Rebeck's neatly conceived The Water's Edge is a contemporary tragedy based on Aeschylus' Oresteia. The Agamemnon of the piece is Richard, a middle-aged charmer who turns up - concubine in tow - on the doorstep of his wife and two kids in rural Massachusetts, 14 years after walking out.

With typical masculine chutzpah, Richard assumes his arrival will enable him to heal a rift with the grown-up children he barely knows, whilst at the same time allowing him to peacefully resettle them so he can move back to his lakeside childhood home they are currently occupying. This paradoxical motivation, coupled with the fact his estranged wife Helen blames him for the drowning of their third child (before he left), makes his quest for atonement a doomed one.

This is engaging, well structured, resonant drama. And there is little to fault in the performances, with Madeleine Potter lending suitably hellish fury to the scorned and tortured Helen, Robert Cavanah capturing the naïve optimism of Richard and Mark Field and Cressida Trew doing fine work as their deeply troubled yet wholly likeable off-spring.   

Rebeck's dialogue is consistently absorbing, but has a rather annoying tendency to slip into psycho-babble. And whilst director Fiona Morrell (who was assistant director on the play's New York production) does some nice work in the Arcola's wide space, her flabby scene changes further bog down the play's intrinsically sluggish pace.

What the play does provide is a proliferation of memorable imagery, created on Charlie Damigos' evocative and suitably crumbling front porch set. And its depiction of the way that parental selfishness can so irrevocably damage a child's psychology is an all too topical theme.

- by Theo Bosanquet