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The Day the Waters Came

Lisa Evans
Theatre Centre
Unicorn Theatre and touring
(2010)

New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina for the second time this week! But The Day the Waters Came, aimed at young audiences, is about the event and the way the authorities were totally unable to cope with it as seen from the point of view of those black citizens the rescue services ignored.

A girl called Maya looks back on what happened to her, her nurse mother, her brother and their friends and neighbours, and moment by moment plays out the incidents that still disturb her dreams and make it impossible to sleep without the help of pills.

Though the city's Mayor calls on the whole population to evacuate, there are always those unwilling or unable because of disability to do so, or who, with no transport, not even buses, cannot get away and so are trapped as the water rises under the door, up the stairs and even to the roof.

Houses, cars, animals and people are washed away as water from the broken levees surges through their homes. There is the mother who has just given birth who has to be got to hospital, two children trapped in an attic stifling to death, over-laden boats having to leave people behind, bodies floating among the wreckage. As Maya says, you have to think of saving yourself. But there are heroes too, including, it seems, her brother in his red bandana.

This is news-style reportage of what it was like, rather than a play about the flood and how it might change people, but Natalie Wilson's confidently theatrical production makes the audience use their imagination and demands close attention to take in all the information, but it holds them riveted with its fast pace and clear characterisations.

Jean Chan's set with a skewed house, wrecked car and other detritus apparently poking out of the stage floor that becomes the surface of the flood are a constant reminder of the disaster, and simply ignored or used as convenient places to sit when the scene is elsewhere or at a different time.

Amber Cameron makes Maya an effervescent teenager, silly and serious and struggling to cope alone, capturing the range of her emotions, though she needs more vocal energy in her quieter passages if they are to be heard clearly in this near in-the-round staging and when she is competing with music and sound effects. There are also fine performances from Darlene Charles as both her mother and her best friend, Shane Frater as her brother and Uriah Manning who starts out as a rheumatic geriatric but in moments has turned into a mewling infant, the first of several characterisations, for, except for Cameron, everyone plays many roles with an instant behaviour change that leaves one in no doubt of the new character.

They give us a graphic picture of the plight of those who did not get out in time, in itself an indictment of the failure of the authorities to manage evacuation or rescue operations, or to provide for those who were given refuge in the Louisiana Superdome where they were left in squalid conditions with food and water running out. Of the aftermath, the rioting, looting and suchlike she tells us nothing but offers a powerful reminder that these people - and they were largely the poor and the blacks - not only lost their homes and everything they owned, but many even lost their identity for, without papers, how could they prove who they were?

Runs at the Unicorn until 9th October then 19th October The Hawth. Crawley. 1st November Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 12th November Take Off Festival, Darlington, 23rd - 27th November 2010 Plymouth Theatre

Howard Loxton