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Review of James Phillips’ Hidden in The Sand at Trafalgar Studios

Hidden in the SandI like to think my lack of knowledge concerning Cyprus in the 1970s is down to it being brushed under the carpet rather than my own ignorance. My limited knowledge comes from Andreas Koumi’s criminally underrated novel The Cypriot so it’s nice to see someone else tackling the subject dramatically. But will James Phillips’ Hidden in the Sand appeal to a wider audience?

The answer is yes, and all with a little help from music by Neil Diamond which is being played in the background.

Alexandra and Jonathan are getting together after one too many glasses of wine. It’s the culmination of months of letter writing that began after meeting in her shop. Considering this is 1999 it’s probably the last traditional romance before the world meets Facebook and Internet dating.

He’s an English academic obsessed with ancient Greece. She’s Cypriot, still mourning the home she fled 25 years ago during the Turkish invasion. With a blossoming romance and the return of her niece Sophia who is intent on learning the truth about her past, Alexandra finds herself dealing with the feelings of guilt and loss she had long locked away.

This is the sort of production where the Trafalgar Studios truly excels, especially the smaller Studio 2, an intimate story with far reaching themes, told with confidence.

Writer James Phillips never lets his script get too political, instead focussing on morals and personal choice. Sophia, a solid performance from Daphne Alexander, as a war photographer debating whether she can profit from something that has had such a devastating effect on her family. Alexandra must decide whether she can move on from the life she never had a chance to say goodbye to, and still sees as hers by right.

As Alexandra, Sally Dexter is outstanding, playing the part with a fragile strength always close to crumbling. Considering the small venue some of her more passionate moments could become awkward but her honesty made them captivating. It also makes her able to play off beautifully against the more subdued performance from Scott Handy (Jonathan) and Yolanda Vazquez (Eleni, her sister and Sophia’s mother), a brilliant late edition to the second act.

The theme of memory and past runs deep through the play, and is heavily reflected in Timothy Bird’s set. Built to look like a ruin, though modern, not ancient, with the remains of brick walls lining the stage. This is not only the shell of the life left behind; it’s the barriers broken down to let us into these people’s lives.

Painted white, the set provides the perfect canvas for a variety of projections. Black and white, these photos blend seamlessly into the set, an effect that worked particularly well for one of the final scenes set on a beach. Intentional or not, the pixelated nature gives an almost mosaic quality to the images, another link to the past.

Hidden in the Sand is a confident production, in its acting, in its look and most importantly in the questions it asks, mainly the search for truth versus rose-tinted memories, neither of which will raise the dead. The play is able to leave these questions for the audience to answer, whilst still creating a satisfying experience. I’m sure it will cause plenty of debate in the Cypriot community, and for me this is genuinely one of the most thought-provoking shows of the year.

Review by Max Sycamore @pheatreland

Alexandra, a refugee from the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, has made a home in London where for decades she cocoons herself from the ghosts of the past. Until one day she meets Jonathan, an English classical scholar who falls deeply in love with her – a chance meeting that sets in motion a journey of remembrance, overcoming grief and letting go of the past in order to live in the present. Set between London and Cyprus and against a backdrop of war and the partition of countries, Hidden in the Sand is a beautiful and passionate story of a love that endures distance and time.

Hidden In The Sand is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 26th October 2013

Hidden In The Sand is written and directed by James Phillips
Cast features Daphne Alexander as Sophia Green, Sally Dexter as Alexandra Chrysostomou, Scott Handy as Jonathan Hunt and Yolanda Vazquez as Eleni Green.

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