Leaves of Glass

Philip Ridley’s multi-layered, complex and highly acclaimed story Leaves of Glass is breathtakingly revived by director Max Harrison in collaboration with Lidless Theatre in a mind-twisting production at The Park Theatre. Premiered at the Soho Theatre in 2007 the intervening years have added more awareness of issues surrounding the darkest revelation in the play and of mental health in general, which is central to its storyline.

A triumphant dramatic exploration of memory, manipulation and mental health

Set in Ridley’s home territory, members of this ensemble deliver in accents that make the location of this East End drama unmistakable. Congratulations to Dialect Coach Mary Howland on securing that front. Steven (Ned Costello) has the air of a wheeler-dealer merchant, although he has a seemingly respectable line of business in graffiti-cleaning, for which there seems to be a big demand. However, he doesn’t get his own hands dirty; can’t spoil the fitted white shirt, but he does have plenty of patter on the phone. While Steven is ostensibly settled in his marriage, he has demons lurking within and nightmarish visions of the boy involved in a near-tragic car accident. Like the rest of the family he also has to cope with the loss of his father; an ongoing grieving process for all of them. He’s five years older than his brother Barry (Joseph Potter) and has always kept an eye out for him, or so we are led to believe. Their dad’s death sent Barry down a path of alcoholism and drugs, if he wasn’t already going that way. He’s a mess, but is now reforming and Steven gives him the odd job to do. If only what’s etched in their heads were as easy to remove as the graffiti, all their lives might be easier.

The boys have a strong bond, but it doesn’t prevent disagreements and even violent exchanges when grim truths from the past are brought into the open. Fight Consultant Sam Angell and Fight and Intimacy Coordinator Lawrence Carmichael have brilliantly packed some frighteningly intense outbursts of aggression into the confines of the intimate space in the round. Costello comes over as a smooth talker but also plays the provocateur, unless he is alone, and then in classic soliloquy style he reveals aspects of the inner man and the denial and twisted interpretation of events he persists in. We never have those moments with his brother. His feelings and emotions are out in the open. Potter has passion, intensity and conviction in delivering Ridley’s text, which he interprets as brilliantly here as he did in his recent highly acclaimed performance in Poltergeist.

Mum Liz (Kacey Ainsworth) did her best to raise them as good lads, especially after her husband’s death. Ainsworth creates a classic no-nonsense matriarch who gives the impression her own mother might well have known the Kray twins. When things go wrong, as they often do, she is always there. Liz has developed an all-embracing excuse for someone’s behaviour that distances the issue and avoids her having to confront what might turn into something unpleasant; it will be that ‘fluey-bug thing’, which seems to be quite a common complaint. As Steven’s wife, Debbie, Katie Bulchholz portrays a level of normality that comes as something of a relief, though she does have an obsession about (non-existent) rats in the basement. She is increasingly preoccupied with her pregnancy, which adds to the turmoil and reveals yet another side to the increasingly deep and mysterious Steve as suspicions abound concerning her fidelity and his. Questions concerning whose version of events or stories to believe permeate the play and are posed at every turn in the narrative. As soon as one brother raises his credibility, it is torn down, often by the other one. The familial condition of ‘secrets and lies’ is rife.

The title of the play comes from the leaves of glass that hang on a beautiful tree ornament that we are told Steven bought for his mother when he was in his teens. It wasn’t cheap and it’s always been a mystery to Liz as to where he got the money to buy it, along with the further expense of purchasing more leaves to add to it on a fairly regular basis for quite a while. There’s a very good reason why he’s never told her, and that story unfolds in a major confrontation between the boys in the darkness of the basement.

The palpable tension in this scene is heightened by the dimmest of lighting; no more than a glow accompanied a burning candelabra, imaginatively devised, along with all the other mood-setting lighting, by Alex Lewer. Sound Designer Sam Glossop has the same success with effects at many points where the mysterious and mental conditions come to the fore. Darkness permeates the story and it pervades the Kit Hinchcliffe’s set, from the walls of the theatre, to the four black benches and the shiny black floor. The creatives have combined to provide atmospheres that accommodate the memories, with which this play abounds, and that bring hours of joy or haunt and torture for a lifetime.

Harrison, with Assistant Director Katarina Fuller, has created a triumphant dramatic exploration of memory, manipulation and mental health, through a directorial strategy that respects the actors, their insights and interpretations and involves them deeply in the process. Credit must also go to producer Zoe Waldon and Casting Consultant Nadine Rennie for her part in assembling this stunning quartet of actors so perfectly suited to their demanding roles.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

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.

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