Theatre review: Where Water Once Was, Blue Room Theatre, WA

An entertaining exploration of ennui and inevitable entropy.

Written and directed by Evan Rickman, Where Water Once Was reveals one reality as witnessed through multiple perspectives, with everyone believing themselves to bear the biggest burden. Tortured by their own perceptions, these characters are unable to see each other (or themselves) as clearly as they think they do. Elements of horror combine with family drama to good effect, leaning into the electric storminess of knowing that something lurks beneath the surface, without the certainty of knowing exactly what. 

Margaret (Chandra Wyatt) has dementia, and lives inside her own head as much as in the world. Stephanie (Madelaine Paige) is frustrated by her mum’s condition, takes her supportive partner Lily (Amber Kitney) for granted and is condescending towards her brother, Dylan (Zane Alexander). However, ever the dutiful daughter, she always shows up – in person, if not in spirit. 

Eccentric Dylan lives in the dilapidated family home, but refuses to visit his ailing mother. His neighbour, Alfred (Kingsley Judd) spouts random facts and conspiracy theories, and is entangled within the family web due to proximity and an extensive shared history. 

Careless words breed poetic rot, resulting in a profound erosion that bleeds between convergent time-streams. Heartfelt moments between Margaret and Stephanie incite both laughter and tears, while tensions between Alfred and Dylan function as semi-comedic fulcrums between the heaviness of the subject matter and lightness of their dialogue. Exchanges between characters occur mainly in dyadic form, and generally explore family tension heightened by the unreliability of memory. 

Elisa von Perger’s stage design is both symbolic and physical, and makes good use of the limited space. The stage initially appears to represent one setting, but turns out to be three overlapping environments. The first is Dylan and Stephanie’s childhood home, in which the adult Dylan currently lives. The second is the dementia care facility where their mother resides, and the third is the far-less-physical flat belonging to Stephanie and Lily.

A landline phone and old-fashioned Rolodex visually encapsulate the past-tainted world in which these characters dwell. Banners are hung strategically to emulate rundown walls, primed to take on a grisly new meaning at just the right moment. Painted floorboards swirl with wood grain or water, depending on the viewer’s expectation. A liminal stream exists beneath Dylan’s feet (or maybe it doesn’t) and history is an ever-present element. 

Impressive lighting (Hayley Smith) and audio (Angus Patterson) strengthen the entire production, particularly in differentiating between scenes, creating various atmospheres and deploying raging storms. 

The entire cast shine in their respective roles. Wyatt’s emotional portrayal of Margaret stands out due to her nuanced tone and emotional expression. Judd brings the right amount of flair and ambiguity to oddball Alfred, and Kitney’s restrained realism skilfully absorbs the audience’s empathy in Lily’s favour. Paige and Alexander carry the bulk of the dramatic weight, with excellent ratios of comedy, drama and latent horror conveyed through their delivery.

Read: Exhibition review: Pre-Raphaelites and In the Company of Morris, Art Gallery of Ballarat

Where Water Once Was is a moving and entertaining exploration of the fragility of existence and the weirdness of humans, as seen through various sets of unreliable eyes. Themes of subjectivity echo through the storytelling, and ripple across the surface of the stage dressing.

Interactions between characters underline how the talent of an artist depends more on the viewer’s perspective than on any physical quality of the artwork – an emphasis that strengthens both the thematic core of the narrative, and the circular decay that comprises the human experience of time. 

Where Water Once Was
Blue Room Theatre

Writer/Director/Performer: Evan Rickman
Producer: Samantha Hortin
Lighting Designer: Angus Patterson
Sound Designer: Hayley Smith

Dramaturg: Hellie Turner
Set Designer: Elisa Von Perger
Stage Manager: Simonne Matthews

Cast: Chandra Wyatt, Kingsley Judd, Zane Alexander, Madelaine Page, Amber Kitney

Tickets: $27-$32

Where Water Once Was will be performed until 1 July 2023.

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.