Horne's Descent

It all starts off so nicely, but it’s not long before Nina Atesh’s drawing-room drama turns into a battleground of conflicts that resurrect the past, fight for the present and attempt to claim the future. The play might be called Horne’s Descent, but at times they all hit the depths and those who survive to win the days comes as something of a surprise.

The air is rife with vitriol and biting conversation

If you enjoy asking yourself, “How’s this going to end?” as you attempt to unravel the carnage of verbal bombardment unwinding in front of you, then this might well be your sort of play. Others might find it ultimately too mysterious or far-fetched depending on the level at which you think it should be interpreted. Either way, what at first seems to be a simple piece of period theatre ultimately winds its way to a denouement worthy of Gothic horror.

It’s January 1920. Peter Horne (Alexander Hackett) is newly ordained. (Here's a opportunity to toy with plots, intermittently throw in the idea that he isn’t ordained but has just thrown that into the mix as a wind-up). He spent the war years fighting in the trenches with his fellow working class cannon fodder and managed to survive. Albert Palmer (Magnus Gordon) his aristocratic childhood friend, could have easily arranged a commission for him through his titled father, but Horne stuck to his roots, not even telling Palmer he had gone to serve. They had no contact with each other for six years.

Palmer has rooms in the posh London house of Etta Florence (Cici Clarke), a woman whose looks belie her years, and her niece, the attractive young socialite Mary Florence (Bethany Slater). They are all flawed individuals. Horne’s commitment to the priesthood is questionable, his youth was chequered and he relishes deliberately winding people up and having the odd rage. Palmer lacks control of his drinking, revels in his privileged status, is foolishly in love with Mary and also has aggressive outbursts. Etta swans around in a world if not quite of the occult one that is certainly full demons, strange powers and animistic curiosity; all of which provides ample material to rile any priest, which she enjoys doing. Mary, while not of similar persuasion, does nothing to stifle Etta’s beliefs. She is aware of her beauty and social class and open to being seduced at the drop of hat. The casting is successful works and each member creates a well-defined character portrayed in a solid performance.

The confines of the Red Lion, Islington are ideally suited to this intense dialogue and claustrophobic atmosphere. Miranda Cattermole’s detailed period parlour with the chairs, chaise longue, drinks table and gramophone, covers most of what little space there is, but she left enough room for the ladies to parade her elegant and colourful cocktail dresses. She scores a double triumph. Director Chloe Cattin manages to find enough room to navigate the cast around the furniture without getting into awkward manoeuvres or head-on collisions. Meanwhile, the air is rife with vitriol and biting conversation as things don’t go the way Palmer had hoped and the past begins to reveal itself. But look out. Conversely, it might be going very much along the lines the ladies planned, despite their protestations. But just what are they up to?

As the denouement approaches the stakes rise along with the element of mystery and level of confusion as to what precisely is happening. It’s all very interesting rather that gripping and on reflection there is a tendency to simply ask, “What was that all about?” You decide.

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Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Having left the conflict of WWI, Horne’s Descent follows the journey of a young priest as he spirals into the depths of his own moral conflict. After the fog and fumbling of war, can you ever go back to the way things were? Touching on themes of classism, religion and free will, Horne's Descent is a psychological interrogation into whether we have the power to change the course of our lives.

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