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Theatre Review: The River

By Luke Downing | 28th April 2018

Photo credit: Michael J Oakes

Photo credit: Michael J Oakes

I’ll admit, I walked into Friargate Theatre last night with next to no knowledge of Jez Butterworth’s The River, or any of his other work for that matter. I had no expectations of what Wildgoose Theatre’s latest offering would be, other than an enigmatic mystery with a fishing theme.

As the lights came up, revealing the fantastic set built by director Andy Love himself, we were immediately transported to Butterworth’s cliffside cabin. The spell had begun, with the words of W.B. Yeats washing over us and adding to the magic. 


The River takes us into the world of The Man (George Stagnall) - the owner of the aforementioned cabin who returns once a year on a moonless night to fish for his beloved sea trout. To his dismay, his new girlfriend, The Woman (Claire Morley), seems much less enthusiastic about the prospect of hunting for fish. 


The anticipated enigma begins from this point, as The Man frantically calls the police in search for his missing girlfriend, only for her to appear in a surprising new form. To reveal more would be to ruin the enticing mystery of the play, but it’s absolutely one that must be experienced.



Andy Love has done a fantastic job of capturing what is quite clearly a beautifully crafted script, full of poetic lyricism and rich with deep, layered metaphor that few writers would be capable of carrying off. Every member of this small cast - including Anna Rogers and Amy Fincham as well as Stagnall and Morley - carry this off with such professional poise as to make it seem effortless. Every word delivered is savoured, and it is absolutely clear that Wildgoose Theatre’s take on The River has been a true labour of love, and the audience reaps the rewards of this in abundance. The true success of this play is in its’ ability to let everyone go home with their own unique interpretation, and I guarantee it’ll leave you pondering long after you’ve left the theatre.

It’s easy to throw about the “must see” banner these days but I assure you, this production absolutely deserves that title. The River is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully crafted productions York has seen this year, and its’ only downside is the short run (this weekend only here in York, with another night in Leeds on 3 May).

The River’s run may be as elusive as The Man’s sea trout, but you can catch it at Friargate Theatre 26-29 April and at 7 Arts Space, Leeds on 3 May. Tickets available at www.ridinglights.org.

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