After an excellent opening night, I was really looking forward to going back to TheatreN16 to see if they could maintain the momentum they had started. I have to say, I was not disappointed and last night’s production consisted of two outstanding shows.
The first “Lean” by Isley Lynn explored a difficult subject from an unusual angle. Tessa (Ellie Jacob) and Michael (Robin Jordan) separated a year ago following a horrible accident in their lives. Neither of them has really got over or moved on from past events, and both are coping in their own way. Unfortunately, Michael’s method involves anorexia and Tessa is worried that he will eventually manage to starve himself to death. In fact, she is so worried that she makes a deal with him (against his wishes) that she will move back in and not eat until he does. Over the course of the next few days, meals are made and meals are thrown away and the two of them test their willpower against one another, as their bodies and their minds start to deteriorate. In between the rounds of uneaten food, home truths are finally spoken and acknowledged and Tessa and Michael reach a sort of understanding with each other hopefully leading to something in the future.
I have to admit, I was expecting “Lean” to be a pretty grim piece of drama and yes, at times it did make uncomfortable viewing – after all male anorexia is not a subject that you face every day. But, thanks to the really clever writing and brilliant performances from Ellie and Robin, I very quickly warmed to and started to care about Tessa and Michael. Both actors under the co-direction of Sarah Chapleo and Emily Collins produced highly believable performances for their very different characters. At times I was so involved that wanted to be up there with them, playing ‘here comes the train’ to get them to eat, I also really wanted to tidy the pretty effective kitchen set (nice work from Designer Imogen Robinson), but that may have just been a manifestation of my own issues. All told then, “Lean” was not the easiest play to watch but it was certainly a powerful and gripping piece of theatre.
The second show of the night was “To Sleep” by Matt Fox and again, was a very emotional piece. Two strangers meet in an anonymous A&E department. There is Martin (Dan Chrisostomou), in his thirties and looking like someone that has pretty much been kicked by life and then thrown out with the trash in the morning. In complete contrast, there is the young vivacious Hayley (Rosie Louden) who, to look at, has everything going for her. She is pretty, and has an accent that suggests she is probably from a ‘nice’ family, maybe in the Home Counties. Two opposites then, but with one thing in common, they have arrived in A&E because of a failed suicide attempt. The two start to talk, initially in that hesitant and often sarcastic manner adopted between age groups, both of whom feel they have the greater knowledge of the world. But slowly, as they start to trust each other more, they open up about themselves. They explain the reasoning behind their suicidal intent and realise that the best way to complete an action is to have someone supporting you. They agree to go through with their plan of ‘sui caedere’ together back at Martin’s flat. Vodka and pills at the ready, they talk some more and then finally they both take action that will have a profound and long lasting effect.
Suicide and the reasons behind it are not necessarily the best theme for a play but in “To Sleep” they come together beautifully. My first thoughts on the story behind Hayley’s motives in ending it all were based around typical teenage angst – welcome to the world of unconscious bias – but, in fact her story was incredibly moving. The same was true of Martin and I have to really acknowledge the skill of Matt Fox’s writing in bringing these two disparate characters together so well. Director Glen Robinson used his actors and the set brilliantly and both Dan and Rosie were mesmerising as Martin and Hayley, wonderfully normal people whose lives had been ruined by their own actions, but who it was so easy to feel sorrow and compassion for. Anyone that has read any of my previous reviews will know I often get emotionally involved with characters and plots very quickly and this happened once again. In fact, as Martin was writing his final letter, I was sitting quietly in my seat, choked up and reaching for a tissue. I have to say the ending of the play was quite contentious, with my companion and I discussing it and its repercussions at great length on our journey home. A play that can do that really does have a spark of magic about it.
TheatreN16 has very quickly established itself in my mind as a force to be reckoned with. Over two nights and five plays, the team have staged shows covering some amazingly difficult subjects with the style, grace and sheer professionalism that you would expect in a long established fringe theatre, and I would really recommend checking out their website to see what they have in store for the North London theatre-going public in the future.
Review by Terry Eastham
Lean by Isley Lynn
To Sleep by Matt Fox
Saturday 23rd May 2015