Waters of the Moon

NC Hunter
Salisbury Playhouse
(2004)

Either an impressive Salisbury Playhouse Company is failing to make the most of N.C. Hunter's 1950s pastiche, Waters of the Moon, or the play itself is insufficient for their talents.

Never having caught this neglected work before, I find it difficult to decide, although a cast including Isla Blair (Helen Lancaster), Shakespearean veteran Christopher Benjamin (Col Selby) as well as other West End regulars, tilts the argument against the play.

Hunter wrote for the middle class morality of a theatre dominated by Rattitgan and Coward. Characters of those inhibited times need an extra dimension if they are to entertain us today.

Too many of those we encounter at the faded Dartmoor hotel in Joanna Read's otherwise sharply observed revival for the Playhouse appear over-weighted. From the strange guttural tones of Jamie Newall's Austrian, Winterhalter, to Sara Coward's frenetic proprietor Mrs Daly, there is an air of unreality around the sitting room, which in Nancy Surman's design is itself, a period piece.

Would the gloom of this dark play lighten with fewer histrionics - or are the actors simply striving to raise the Titanic?

Two things prompt my uncertainty. First, the painfully moving revival of Sherriff's Journey's End, currently at the London Comedy, and second, the moments of warmth and colour in later scenes at Salisbury. They offer glimpses of why Hunter was once mentioned in the same breath as Chekhov. Make no mistake, all the characters stir as the storm lifts and we prepare to go on our separate ways.

The production runs until 7th February.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole