Something ancient is lurking in the Thames in this company-devised piece. The shapeshifting Taniwha of Māori legend has travelled oceans to lure men and women into the murky depths of England’s most famous river.

After a rather forced start where you’re encouraged to toast the Taniwha with a shot of Thames water, the production improves. A sail-draped set, dialogue with a sea-salt sting and the sounds of creaking timber and distant planes evoke an international London overflowing with people restlessly searching for somewhere to belong. Whatever else it is, the Taniwha is a metaphor for the temptations and perils of the big city.

From onboard the HMS Endeavour to a tai chi-styled airline safety announcement that morphs into the Haka, director Stella Duffy and her cast collapse pages of history together in imaginative and often strikingly beautiful scenes.

Whether clicking insect-like or entwining arms to beckon seductively to victims, the actors create an alternately alien and alluring Taniwha. It’s a shame that this visual poetry is let down by a narrative that treads water, filled with too many underdeveloped stories that don’t really go anywhere. Ultimately, the play doesn’t have enough beneath its intriguing surface to draw you in.

First published by Time Out.