The production of Walking on Water that opened last night at the White Bear Theatre in south London features a notably fine cast led by one of the grande dames of British acting, Susannah York. York plays the senile-some-of-the-time, not so matriarchal grandmother in a story that also features her two daughters and a grand-daughter.
Mel Hudson plays Betsy, a neurotic, California-based designer who returns home to small-town Indiana, finally responding to the pleas of her sister Frances (Sarah Berger), who’s lived a classic life of female self-sacrifice – caring for her widowed mother and teaching third grade – made bearable only by copious quantities of “hard liquor.”
We don’t meet Betsy’s daughter, Henny (Victoria Yeates), until the second act, but she also makes a strong impact, powerfully presenting the jagged emotions of a 15-year-old subjected to distinctly questionable parenting.
The four actors form a powerful team; you can feel the strengths of the bond this production has formed. Lolly Susi’s direction brings them together tightly and neatly.
They have been given fine, meaty, if rather predictable characters, and play them with skill and verve. Paul Minx’s script bears the mark of fine writing, with snappy one-liners, skilfully woven repeat motifs, and a tight structure.
But why, oh why, oh why, does the story have to be that same old miserable tale of a family destroyed by sexual abuse, of women whose lives are hopelessly scarred by the abusive, useless men? Do we really have to spend an evening watching them fall apart as the half-hidden stories of the past are dragged into view?
The show is billed as a comedy, but I found myself glad for the venue of pub theatre – a stiff drink at interval being definitely in order.
Please, can we have at least a moratorium of a few years on such stories, and set such obviously fine writers, and such excellent actors, to something new, and less depressing?
The production continues at the White Bear Theatre until January 28.