Chris Isaacs' Flood is the story of six 20-something Perth friends who reunite for a camping trip into the North West outback organised by Mike (Joshua Brennan).

Steve (Samuel Delich) and the reluctant Vanessa (Whitney Richards) are a couple; Sal (Will O'Mahony), though, has left his girlfriend behind in Melbourne, where he lives, to join his buddies on the adventure. Their mates, Frankie (Adriane Daff) and Elizabeth (Rose Riley), complete the expedition.

They're city kids, packed into Mike's mum and dad's Tarago, and unprepared for the isolation and dangers of the remote place they're visiting. When a stranger appears out of the bush while the friends are skinny-dipping in a waterhole, surprise turns to fear, confrontation to violence, and disaster to tragedy.

It's impossible not to recall Raymond Carver's short story, So Much Water So Close to Home, and especially its Australian film adaptation, Jindabyne, with its added layer of racism. Isaacs' story has more to it but is a fair bit less successful than those excruciating parables of guilt and its consequences.

Isaacs is a nimble writer, switching from narrated reminiscence to dialogue, from past to present tense, cleverly underlining the sense of foreboding that presages the terrible event at the heart of the play. It's no mean feat, and requires dexterous manipulation of staging and performance to deliver, all of which director Adam Mitchell manages with his usual skill.

It would make for memorable theatre, if only there were more to the story. What it lacks is meaningful conflict between the characters. What happens may be real enough, and psychologically true enough, but that in itself doesn't make a compelling drama. There is an unsatisfying lack of moral dilemma at work, and no external force, hardly even the possibility of external force, is brought to bear on them, even by reference.

It makes the action of the second part of the play somewhat perfunctory, a little like Julius Caesar after "friends, Romans, countrymen". It also means the denouement, though it is strikingly staged, comes from out of the blue, and that's not as it should be.

Anyone who's watched Daff, Richards and O'Mahony's work will be unsurprised by how good they are this time. Brennan was a revelation a couple of years ago in Perth Theatre Company's Tender Napalm while he was still at WAAPA, and his performance here reminds you why. Delich and Riley are just out of that academy, and both will be very much better for this run.

India Mehta's sculpted set gives Mitchell and his cast a compact, stylish landscape to work in but its hook, while ingenious and appropriate, becomes a distraction.

Flood is the first production of the Black Swan Lab, the State theatre company's initiative to foster collaborations with emerging artists.

Flood may fall a little short of its potential but that's only part of the process, and only this time around.

When a

stranger appears

out of the bush while

the friends are skinny-dipping in a waterhole, surprise turns to fear, confrontation

to violence, and

disaster to

tragedy.

The West Australian

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