Ray Young, Thirst Trap

IssueApril - May 2023
Review by Emily Johns

Having a bath will never be the same again after experiencing Thirst Trap, an affecting piece of audio theatre which takes place in your own bathroom.

I received a black box from the postman. It puzzled me – here was a conventional home spa kit: the bath bomb, the candle, the tea sachet. I thought I had been sent a marketing gimmick by a company called Ray Young wanting to sell me something.

Eventually, by sleuthing on the internet, I realised the box was my entry into a performance, but I didn’t yet know that it led to a dystopian future of extreme water rationing and lethal sunlight.

The winter went by. When the bathroom was no longer freezing and a way of extending audio and WiFi had been figured out, my confederate in the corridor pressed the start button.

Using the familiar ritual and language of an indulgent self-care experience, I was invited on a meditation of body awareness and relaxation. The perhaps unintended brilliance of this moment was the friction between the gentle words of the narrator and my growing anxiety about the cost of having to run a bath of hot water fuller than at any time this winter.

Once in the water and drifting into a soothing contemplation of the sensory boundaries of air, water and skin, a woman’s voice hurtles me years into the future to a terrible dried-out place.

She reflects on how the world got there, journeying through capitalism, slavery, climate collapse, the loss of the NHS, technological change.

We hear the remembered sounds from her own childhood in perhaps the 1970s when water was for playing in, and hear about her present old age where bodies are parched, distended and aching for water.

I was immersed in all senses – hanging in a deeply relaxed state looking at the past, present and future.

Thirst Trap is a good example of Joanna Macy’s ‘The Work that Reconnects’, that imagining being in the future in order to look at the present can be a tool for fully taking in and understanding catastrophe.

At some point, I lowered a black charcoal-coated bath bomb/time bomb into the water. I was in the heavenly blue colour of imagined water and my body was covered in sticky black gunk – I, the aquatic ape in the oil slick.

Blackness binds this work – the black of fossil fuels, a Black-bodied perspective on capitalism and climate change, black as the colour of mourning, the work of a Black artist.

Once I became aware of this, the objects in the black box became that more potent.

There is a black pebble on a piece of string for measuring the depth of the water. As it lies on the bottom of the bath it changes colour from black to white as the water and temperature rises.

At the other end of the string is a tiny black pumice stone that floats to the surface.

In my meditative state, I fell to thinking of global climate justice – the connection and tension between North and South along economic strings… who sinks, who floats… a tiny pumice island in the pacific blue... this black box is a tool for thought.

Joanna Macy’s model needs hope to be effective. Thirst Trap ends with a call to be with community and to take action.

And it ends with a cup of tea – an exquisite flower unfurling in water.