Neil Smith’s latest play begins as a domestic drama, but spirals uncontrollably into a claustrophobic nightmare of violence. Set in a lonely country cottage, Helene is visited by the lover she hasn’t seen in nine years. They reminisce about how they met, rehash why he left and unleash years of pent-up guilt and bitterness as he begs to be introduced to their daughter. As they vent their suffering, dark secrets are revealed, including the sinister truths about who they are now.
Works perfectly to build a sense of ominous claustrophobia
Jill Rutland is captivating as Helene, employing skilful physicality as she assumes the role of her daughter in hypothetical scenes of family reunion. Luke Barton is initially slightly rigid in his portrayal of John, but as the play goes on, his performance gains momentum, so by the end of the show his presence is spellbinding. The square performance space, demarcated with a pillar at each corner, works perfectly with the action to build a sense of ominous claustrophobia: a garden, woods and upstairs rooms are mentioned but the two characters are bound within these kitchen walls.
There are moments when weak writing undermines the tension of a scene. John’s likening of the rapeseed fields to “a carpet of yellow light” sounds slightly kitsch in the context of the more naturalistic dialogue that begins the drama. And indeed, the play’s synopsis warns that there is another figure present who witnesses the events “Silently. Not making a sound”, the tautology of which could give the mistaken impression that the show is in fact a parody - it is certainly nothing of the sort.
As the descent into brutality and psychosis commences, however, such quibbles are forgotten. An appreciably menacing soundtrack accompanies the acts of violence and it becomes unclear whose truth is real. Echoes of King Lear abound, and there is a strong ring of Sarah Kane to the play’s frenzied cruelty and unsettlingly tranquil final moments.
The seconds of silence that reverberate when the lights go down are evidence of this play’s potency. Echoes is a gripping performance that will keep resounding in your ears long after you leave the theatre.