Water Child
Newcastle Theatre Company @ Nexus Cabaret
2:00pm, Sun 17 Mar 2013
Despite my advancing years, I’ve never felt the need to procreate – the idea of having children hasn’t really tickled me for a couple of decades now. But I’m not naïve enough to discount the fact that I may actually change my mind on that in the future… so the promise of a play that discusses procreation and fertility in more mature couple lures me to Water Child.
The problem is that it was incredibly difficult to sympathise with any of the characters on display.
Jeannie and husband Mark open the play just prior to her twelve-week ultrasound; bridging their forties, the couple have experienced multiple miscarriages at the eight-week mark previously, so there’s a cautious optimism heading into the checkup. The test reveals bad news, however, causing Jeannie to sink into tearful sadness, whilst Mark over-drowns his sorrows at the pub.
But then Jeannie’s mother (Denise) and sister (Katie) enter the mix. Denise’s rip-off-the-bandaid approach to overcoming grief feels ludicrously cruel, and Katie’s self-centred proselytising (from her experience as a mother-of-three) is brash and obscene. Mark’s obsession over his desire to have children makes him appear like a complete fucking wanker, especially when Jeannie starts contemplating that the physical and emotional stress over their failed pregnancies may have taken their toll.
In fact, the only character that I even vaguely liked is Jeannie’s friend Angela… but I’m not convinced that it was because I could identify with her lack of interest in children. She’s simply the least reprehensible person on the stage; the only character for whom dialogue rings true, and traits appear multidimensional. Jeannie has her moments of contrast – she gets some wonderfully glib one-liners, and she lights up with biting anger when Mark becomes a selfish arsehole – but much of the play (understandably) sees her wallowing around in grief.
Water Child (the title comes from mizuko, the Japanese term for a dead – typically miscarried or stillborn – foetus) was painful. Approaching two hours in length, it wallowed in misery with characters that didn’t do anything but become more and more unlikeable… and, hence, unidentifiable. I can understand (in theory, anyway) the grief that dominates the lives of the principle couple, but that’s about all; with the aforementioned exception of Angela, every other character was completely foreign to me.
And the conclusion? Well… the nicest thing I can say about that is that it felt offensive to me. When I checked the programme after the fact and discovered that the play was written by a woman, I was gobsmacked – it felt like a ode to patriarchy, in a play in which The Man was portrayed as the morally and emotionally weakest character present. Maybe it’s a bit much to expect a hint of feminism in the script, but I walked away from Water Child genuinely angry.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 17, 2013