Aged just 16 and 17, Harrison Sharpe (Matt) and Archie Stevens (Mikey) make their Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut with Real Eyes, an intensely moving story of brothers growing up together yet living in different worlds.
Quality writing, precise direction and sensitively nuanced acting.
Given their ages it would be easy to imagine they arrive with little pedigree, yet Sharpe’s theatre credits already include appearances at the Donmar Warehouse, along with several other theatres and a UK tour. He has written and produced this play which they have directed jointly. Stevens has been on stage at the Queen’s Theatre and Apollo Theatre and together they were 2018 and 2019 Watford Festival Award Winners for Duologue Acting. This play is, as they put it, their "leap from successful child actors into passionate teenage theatre-makers and intelligent performers". They have cleared the hurdle with a spectacular vault into quality writing, precise direction and sensitively nuanced acting.
The brothers’ red bunk bed shines brightly on stage, yet from the outset there is a foreboding darkness as Mikey shakes and quivers before us in time with the notes of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major. It is indeed nighttime and the boys reminisce on memories of childhood, before reflecting on their parents’ breakup, the pulls of allegiance, the yearning for love, the disappointments of youth and their distant ambitions. Drugs, crime and violence rear their ugly heads and a self-destructive path opens up.
The dialogue drifts down the road from light-hearted banter, to serious questions, to aggressive loathing and violent outbursts before relating the plays tragic denouement. It’s all captured in the movement the boys have devised from the jolly swinging of legs from the top bunk to vicious fights they find themselves involved in. The bright lighting similarly reflect the highs of their lives, but is dimmed for the lows and a blackout portends the final twist. Some might see that coming, but there are no overt giveaway just an enduring sense that something is going on beneath the banter.
Creating work of this quality portends a bright future for the boys and years of powerful theatre for lovers of drama. For now, let’s hope that Real Eyes can be brought back to the stage elsewhere. It’s a gem that deserves further exposure.