Do you prefer baths or showers? For Harry, the man-in-the-street protagonist of this dark one-man comedy, it’s baths all the way. His love of bathing appears to dominate his life, and forms an interesting jumping-off point for a nicely-textured script – one which, before long, sees Harry land in hot water of the more figurative kind.
Harry regards a well-run bath in the way a connoisseur views a vintage champagne. It’s all in the detail: the texture of the bubbles, the temperature of the water, the setting of the bathtub. He even, to my faint disdain, lights some candles. But all’s not well in the world outside Harry’s bathroom – and as the narrative unfolds, something sad and deeply disturbing starts to intrude on his laid-back life.
Actor Richard Purnell builds Harry into a likeable Everyman, with a middle-ranking job in a call centre and an unexceptional, utterly believable private life. A handful of other characters, like his chisel-jawed neighbour, are equally well-drawn in cameo roles. And at first, Harry’s narrative is the model of quiet domesticity: a sweet boy-meets-girl story, a move to the seaside, a slow drift apart.
The plot twist, when it comes, could perhaps be made more startling – but it still marks a well-judged gear change and a subtle shift in mood. The script remains witty, and occasionally surreal, but there’s a sharpness to it now: a loss of innocence, an acknowledgement of truths Harry had previously tried to hide. There’s one particular scene, a eulogy at a funeral, which was absolutely transfixing.
But always, always, it comes back to the bath. As a central theme, this is a curious one, and it’s up to you what to make of it. For me, it’s a contemplation of calmness – of the wisdom of finding comfort in the simpler things of life. But I still felt there was something lacking from the plot: a greater sense of action and consequence, and a firmer moral to be teased out. Some big things happen in Harry’s life, but they mostly seem to happen around him.
I enjoyed Bathtime on almost every level: it’s well-acted, it’s pleasingly ambiguous at times, and it certainly makes the most of its quirky central theme. I was just left feeling that the story hadn’t gone as far as I wanted it to. Still, this is a show worth seeing – a likeable and quietly humorous play, something warm to sink yourself gently into.