The Water Harvest
STAR RATING: 4/5
Chris Lee is an approved social work manager in the London Borough of Camden with a prodigious talent for writing plays, writes Drew Clode.
His latest, The Water Harvest, shows his long professional engagement with mental health being enriched and maturing perhaps in the struggle between social worker and artist within the author’s personality.
He’s tried it at least once before with Ash Boy in 2006 where he describes the frightening disintegration of a young man, Jack, living in horrifying isolation with his mother in an inner city desert.
In The Water Harvest Lee moves towards articulation and explanation. On a set that makes minimalism seem extravagant, Jim starts off at the ending, telling us of his friend John’s suicide. He then leads us through the sexually unrequited love and care he has felt for John throughout the stages of his friend’s manic depression.
John’s ghost, as it were, supplies us with the manic depressive’s account of the relationship. Both men, on stage throughout the uninterrupted 100 minutes, speak only to the audience, necessarily ignoring the presence of the other. Through the differing accounts of shared moments, they expose the illusions and delusions of love and mania, their exhilaration and moments of despair.
Lee uses irony ruthlessly to throw a harsh light on the complexities of the relationship between victim and carer, the hopeless lover and the contemptuous beloved. Both acknowledge their betrayal of each other and themselves – Jim’s is by his “own desire”, while John’s is more complex.
In the event, the play’s few and minor faults are put into deep shade by the sheer dynamite in the language that explodes like cluster bombs in the audience more poetry than drama more Blake than Pinter. Perhaps setting it in his native Ireland helped Lee escape, in moments of lyrical magic, the (overdone?) revulsion he feels towards the cityscape.
Throughout, the compelling water metaphor brilliantly binds the play together and gives it the sense of movement and uncertainty that the limitations of stage, cast and narrative might otherwise preclude.
It was rumoured that half of Camden’s social care workforce was due to see the play. They would have seen Colm Gormley (Jim) and Edward MacLiam (John) do more than ample justice to two gruelling parts.
The wider public would be enthralled by this play, but unaware that they were seeing, at a very profound level, some of the deepest problems that they, and social work, can contend with. Lee’s Camden colleagues will have known better.
Drew Clode is policy/press adviser for the Association of Directors of Adults Social Services
● The Water Harvest ran at the Latchmere Theatre for a week in early June, and should be coming back soon