Preview: In Black Water

Alicia Powell offers an insight into the creative process behind this student-devised tale

The writer’s hands are stained with ink and the page they write on is blank. They cannot push the words from inside them, out….

This is when they are visited by Theuth, the god of writing.

Theuth arrives in a flurry of darkness and an outpouring of words and offers them the gift of writing in exchange for a part of their life.

They accept the offer and begin to write once more, again and again. But Theuth is constantly watching them from the shadows, and he is not a kind god.

(Image Credits: Katie Wrench) 

Brought to life by a team of seven talented student writers, In Black Water is a powerful devised piece that explores the significance of narratives, the fragmentation of memory, and how we relate to those we love and have lost.

When asked what made him want to tell this story, creative director Mark Jones acknowledged his desire “to write about how writing is used, how narratives are used within our society”.

He noted that “storytelling has been around since the start of time, since humans could speak and form words – [In Black Water] is, at its heart, a story about storytelling and about how those stories bring people together and separate them. It felt like a story that needed to be told or has been told already. It is a story we already know, everyone, but which we have made our own.”

Director Jake Fenton credited Mark with the intriguing concept of a God of writing – who cited his source material as Plato’s ‘Phaedrus’ – but what drew Jake to the story after that was “having the ability to build upon the narrative, and explore how the stories we tell about ourselves, shape us.”

Jake knew early on that he wanted to consider how dementia could be explored through the art of storytelling and “how the fragmentation of memory could impact relationships.”

(Image Credits: Caitlin Van Bommel)

What was made clear in my conversation with the team is that the process of creating this piece has been creatively freeing for everyone involved.

Mark has realised that “directing a devising process is so different from other forms of directing: you give your ideas and your thoughts to the actors and out of them they form their own stories.

There is something beautiful in devising in that each person is a part of the piece you are creating; they are bringing themselves into that space and sharing it with you.

We have seven writers who followed a skeleton script and wrote their own scenes and narratives, and out of that we made a skeleton for the actors to play with – in this way it is a lot more liberating.”

(Image Credits: Caitlin Van Bommel)

Kitty Ford, who plays The Writer, confesses she has felt “pushed” by the rehearsal process: “It takes, I find, far more of yourself to be devising rather than working off a script”.

However, she has found it “so utterly rewarding to find the story and characters with the cast, writers and directors, and collaborative in a way I’ve never really known before.”

Eirlys Lovell-Jones, who plays The Artist, echoes this sentiment: “The amount of openness to exploration in this production has been such an exciting and scary privilege.

Jake and Mark have facilitated us so kindly and patiently – I am so grateful for the trust we have all invested in each other.

It has also been quite moving to helping to bring each other’s ideas into being and I think it will always be a very special experience”.

I asked Mark what he was most excited about when it came to staging In Black Water, to which he said, “the atmosphere”: “you’ll sit down and be taken somewhere else in watching this, somewhere both personal and universal […] A space is formed where stories come to grow and to be nurtured, where they are created and pulled apart, where the landscape is full of the sounds of voices and the keys of a typewriter, a world dipped in ink. This sounds poetic but you must be poetic when talking about theatre. There is something alive inside it, waiting to come out.”

This production will draw on a variety of theatrical elements to tells its story. Mark notes that “there is an amazing dialogue between movement sequences, narration, and naturalistic sequences that lies at the heart of this play – all of them working with one another”, and Jake expresses excitement over “experimenting with projection and sound to layer on the growing feelings of ecstasy as the writer makes a deal with the God”.

Throughout this production process, the directing duo have come to love surreal storytelling and how technical effects can be used to achieve this.

Finally, I asked director Jake what he hopes audiences take away from the show: “On a narrative level, I want them to reflect on the stories we tell and how they can influence us.

Through looking at dementia and forgetting, I want the audience to engage with how interwoven stories and memories are, and to revisit some memories they think have shaped them and those around them.

It’s incredible what a group of people can achieve when they entertain each other’s madness.”

This preview was collated by Alicia Powell and the In Black Water team.

In Black Water is showing on the 8th – 12th of Novemeber at 9:30 pm at Corpus Playroom.

Tickets available here.

Related articles recommended by this author:

A Glamorous Guide to Winter Ballin’ in Cambridge

Review: Chess

Nine types of Cambridge students you’ll see on BeReal