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Leaves of Glass at Park Theatre

Recollections may vary,” so said a statement issued by Buckingham Palace in March 2021 on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. Steven (Ned Costello), five years older than Barry (Joseph Potter), have markedly different memories to each other. No wonder their mother Liz (Kacey Ainsworth) finds herself not quite knowing who to believe. Completing the set of on-stage characters is Debbie (Katie Buchholz), Steven’s wife, who falls pregnant but temporarily moves out ostensibly because there are rats in the cellar. Meanwhile, Steven, who runs his own business, is regularly on the phone with another woman. At one point he even allows a conversation with Debbie to be interrupted by a call.

Leaves of Glass. Photo by Mark Senior.
Leaves of Glass. Photo by Mark Senior.

The scene changes are sufficiently swift, with the set mostly consisting of benches that get shifted around – occasionally, a table will appear. The only props visible are the ones essential to advance the narrative. Otherwise, it is largely left to the dialogue to establish time and place: we know Liz’s house doesn’t have double glazing, for instance, because it is suggested she gets it installed. But that turns out to be a relatively minor concern – the show’s critical incident has already happened before the point at which the play begins, with some of the more eccentric and left-field behaviour arguably being exhibited as irrational responses to the death of their father considerably before his time.

The show isn’t without stereotypes. There’s the doting mother who still treats her now adult children as if they were still her dependants (and in some respects, they still are): one scene sees her picking up discarded takeaway food containers off Steven’s floor. Then there’s Barry, the gifted painter and illustrator who is also a tortured soul. Steven himself was, for me, the most complex character, if only because everything appeared to be going as well for him as might be expected on surface level, but all was not, after all, as it seemed.

It is the brothers that the story focuses on. The Cockney accents (but not, thankfully, overuse of rhyming slang) bring to mind the BBC Television soap opera EastEnders, especially when accusations of infidelity are being yelled. A rather deep and introspective story, the audience has some work to do to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of thoughts and opinions. There’s a fight and intimacy coordinator as well as a fight consultant in the production’s credits for a reason – when the brothers’ differences of opinion tip over into an exchange of blows, it’s highly convincing. Quite rightly, the only point of humour in the scene comes with Liz’s sharply timed re-entry to the room with refreshments, a moment of comic relief amongst all the tension and anger.

The in-the-round seating arrangement wasn’t wholly suitable for the play, which really belongs in a more traditional proscenium arch setting – facial expressions and non-verbal reactions should have been seen by everyone at the same time. Debbie even mentions a particular stare Steven gives under certain circumstances, and I couldn’t help but notice an entire section of the audience couldn’t see it for themselves. The script is almost too poetical at times, given the hard-hitting (in more ways than one) storyline. It is too harsh to assert it’s no wonder there isn’t an interval because patrons might be inclined not to return for the second half. But it is also too harsh on the audience not to have one: at 105 minutes straight through, such a heavy and traumatic plot should have given us an opportunity to come up for air.

The cast, however, is first-rate. Debbie, I felt, was an underwritten character, although Buchholz does brilliantly to make what could easily have been a one-dimensional, nice-but-dim personality into someone altogether more substantial. Costello’s Steven has good stage presence, which is just as well given his various soliloquies. Potter came across as someone relishing playing the complicated and somewhat flamboyant Barry. Ainsworth’s Liz was highly convincing, unapologetically forthright when the occasion calls for it but otherwise possessing a warm and welcoming charm.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

East London. 2023.

Steven has always tried to be a good person. He works hard. He looks after his family. But, suddenly, everyone starts accusing him of things. His wife accuses him of being unfaithful. His mother accuses him of being coercive. And his brother, Barry, accuses him of…what exactly?

Barry won’t say. Or can’t. Or perhaps…Steven hasn’t done anything at all.

Following its critically acclaimed run at Soho Theatre premiere in 2007, Philip Ridley’s four-hander is a gripping narrative of memory, manipulation, and power – now regarded as a modern classic – returns for the first time in 16 years with a new production by longtime collaborators, Lidless Theatre.

Lidless Theatre and Zoe Weldon in association with Park Theatre and Theatre Deli present the first major UK revival

CAST
LIZ I KACEY AINSWORTH
DEBBIE I KATIE BUCHHOLZ
STEVEN I NED COSTELLO
BARRY I JOSEPH POTTER

CREATIVES
MAX HARRISON | DIRECTOR
KATARINA FULLER | ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
ZOE WELDON | PRODUCER
KIT HINCHCLIFFE | DESIGNER & PRODUCTION MANAGER
SAM GLOSSOP | SOUND DESIGNER
ALEX LEWER | LIGHTING DESIGNER
NADINE RENNIE CDG | CASTING CONSULTANT
BRAINS | STAGE MANAGER

Leaves of Glass
By Philip Ridley

Directed by Max Harrison

https://parktheatre.co.uk/

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