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Live / stage review

The Cult of Water at the Drama Studio

David Bramwell takes an audience at the Drama Studio on a walk between worlds.

18 November 2021,
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David Bramwell.

David Bramwell’s show The Cult of Water is a kind of Doncastrian Lord of the Rings, telling the story of the musician and broadcaster’s quest to throw an accursed seventies upbringing into the volcanic source of the River Don. There’s also a wizard, who we’ll get in a tic.

Located in the pitch-perfect liminal space of the University of Sheffield’s Drama Studio, there’s a desk, Bramwell behind it, a slightly unhappy circle of candles on the floor and a projector screen showing a series of photographs that accompany the story, alongside a pre-recorded musical soundtrack. That soundtrack features guests including Donald Pleasance and Northampton’s top wizard Alan Moore, whose hypnotic, peaty voice makes Bramwell sound like a preppy TEDx-er.

But the performance and the spectacle here is in how Bramwell’s story erupts between the words, music and imagery. At points, The Cult of Water feels like a spoken word performance. At others, a gig (it’s even on Spotify). Once or twice it feels like the neighbours taking you through their holiday snaps.

Like Sheffield’s Tinsley towers, the majesty of the thing only really catches your attention when it’s on the verge of collapsing. He describes the hazy compulsion he felt as a boy to carry a blue teacup he found in the grass to place it at the foot of a water tower. And after describing its rediscovery some 30 years later on a river bed, he’s amused when an audience member asks if this really happened.

This reminded me of a children's TV show I watched when I was little that followed a group as they walked the M1 to find out where it came from. Like The Cult of Water it was a journey in an unfamiliar form that didn’t particularly care whether it was true or not. Several decades down the line I think that’s essential to the after-image it’s created in my head. I’m hopeful Bramwell’s experiments in deceit and discovery will imprint themselves on my mind in the same way over time.

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