International Waters

David Leddy’s apocalyptic fable International Waters certainly starts as it means to go on; loud and bold, with the memorable image of four gas-masked figures performing a tabletop fight to the death between Barbie dolls.

It may initially feel like some darkly delicious rewriting of the drawing room comedy, but Leddy ensures that it ends up being something altogether much more serious and memorable.

These, we quickly realise, represent the struggle of the main characters to escape economic and societal meltdown on the “last boat out of London”. The four – a financier’s trophy wife (Claire Dargo), self-obsessed singer (Robin Laing), secretive senior civil servant (Selina Boyack), and conspiracy-fixated journalist (Lesley Hart) – are then confined, Big Brother House style, in the ship’s Caliban Room, ready to drink champagne and kick back while they sail to safety. Except… the four soon realise that they are far from safe. The boat is sailing in the wrong direction out to sea, dangerous wild animals have escaped from the cargo hold, and their foreign-sounding captain is demanding millions of dollars before taking them to safety in Mumbai.

The dramatic meat of International Water is the constantly alternating power-struggles between these four members of the global elite as they attempt to work out what’s happening while also retaining some sense of control over events, whether that’s with money, charm, or a blinding sense of entitlement. The overall time-span of the events we see is less than 24 hours, but it is condensed with overt theatricality; not least through the repeated use of sudden, noisy black-outs and staggered flashes of frozen character tableaus reminiscent of some tightly-cut BBC Three drama. Meantime the characters’ brutal Lord of the Flies-styled collapse is startling, not least because Leddy delights in putting his characters through hell, physically as much as psychologically. Bodily fluids of all kinds are soon splashing across the luxurious suite – I’d hate to be whoever has to clean the cast’s costumes after each performance!

An excellent cast give full life to a script that is full of deliciously ironic lines (“They can look up diarrhoea on Wikipedia while dying of it,”), the effective use of sitcom repetition (“Isn’t human psychology interesting?” the well-healed journalist keeps saying over the course of the play, with varying degrees of irony), and a high concentration of literary references ranging from Shakespeare to Ayn Rand. Yet this isn’t just some masturbatory exercise in literary appropriation. The inspired use of music – from old-time Southern USA to the Sugarcanes – adds to the overall sense of Leddy, as both writer and director, drawing together seemingly disparate aspects of our world for real dramatic effect.

Ably supported by Becky Minto’s decadent set, Nich Smith’s lighting design and the almost overwhelming soundscape created by Danny Krass, International Waters is a stark tale, boldly told. It may initially feel like some darkly delicious rewriting of the drawing room comedy, but Leddy ensures that it ends up being something altogether much more serious and memorable. 

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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The Blurb

No refugee crisis ever looked so chic, darling.

The social fabric has finally torn. Airports are closed, roads are blocked. Now even the 1% need to seek asylum. Four obscenely rich members of the elite pay through the nose to join an exclusive party on the last ship leaving London. They stay alive using the only things they know – money, sex and madness. But the ship is sailing in the wrong direction. They don’t know each other. They don’t know the Captain. They don’t know what the hell is going on.

International Waters comes from multi-award-winning writer and director David Leddy, who has been called a ‘maverick’ (Guardian), a ‘genius’ (Scotsman), an ‘innovator’ (Times) and an ‘institution’ (Independent).

Like a perverse Aesop’s fable for the apocalypse, the twisting plot explores how progress can sometimes be a trap. In this case it involves elegant glamour, brutal food poisoning, cyborg finance, and a delicious bull testicle meringue.

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