Taking the Waters Review by Jessica Taurins

 *** stars

Taking the Waters is an aesthetically stunning – yet unfortunately slightly shallow – study of life, relationships, and death, wrapped up neatly in just over an hour. The show features Suzannah Espie (performer and live singer), Fiona Macleod (performer), and Tamara Rewse (performer and puppeteer / puppet crafter), and each of them have a daring and wonderful part to play in the story. The Lemony S Puppet Theatre are a Green Room nominated independent puppeteering company, using their unique crafts to dig right to the core of what it means to be human

Told from the perspective of two sisters (Macleod and Espie), the show focuses on their relationship with their third sister, a puppet by the name of Duck, masterfully puppeteered by Rewse. It was a stroke of brilliance for Duck’s story to be told via shadow puppetry, as it allowed the audience to feel a connection to both her good times and her declining illness in a stark and painful manner.

At times Duck lives the best she can, with her family around her, silently silhouetted behind the thin scrim. At other times, the cancer takes her body by force – there is a terrifying scene where the shadows (designed by Japanese artist Kyoko Imazu) turn to spiders. Are these simply pain-induced hallucinations, or the feeling of her body failing and falling apart around her? At another moment, Duck’s heartbeat is the flutter of a bird against the screen, tracked by a red-eyed raven that grows closer and more threatening as the music crescendos. It is visceral and painful to watch her panicked heartbeat flap above her while her puppet body thrashes to breathe. The shadow puppetry is used masterfully throughout the show to tell additional stories and contrast with the otherwise extremely realistic acted portions of the performance.

Unfortunately, while Taking the Waters is a truly beautiful show, other elements of it only scratch the surface of what it means to suffer through life and loss. Putting aside the puppetry, which is the absolute highlight of the performance, the half of the show focusing on the sisters Chook and Maggie is less enthralling. While it is realistic, the choice to tell the story through limited and somewhat repetitive dialogue makes it difficult to connect with the relationship between the characters – what happened in the past to estrange them, for example? Maggie is a reckless musician and Chook is a dedicated carer, both to Duck and her own family, but is this a strong enough reason for them to be cold to one another?

The show ends as one expects, with a funeral. Espie’s live singing – also littered throughout the show – is at its peak here, she performs a beautiful send-off for Duck which could make an audience cry (if they weren’t already). Overall, Taking the Waters is a delight to watch, even if its realistic elements are far outmatched by its creative elements. For the shadow puppetry alone, this is well worth the time.

Images: Jeff Busby