Y Cymro - 18/6/07
If a play can make you identify with the characters or the story or can make you understand what they’re going through, then it’s a success. This might only be a brief moment – a childhood memory or a longing for the past, but it can be enough to remain with you, long after the fall of the curtain. I had one of these moments in the Soho Theatre’s latest production of Philip Ridley’s ‘Leaves of Glass’.
It’s a story about two brothers and their mother, although the older brother’s wife also makes an appearance. Steven (Ben Whishaw) is a successful business man. On the surface he has everything – a new home, a pretty wife and plenty of money. But hiding under the perfect exterior lie many secrets – secrets that will eventually shatter the family unit. Barry (Trystan Gravelle) is the younger brother, totally different to his older brother. As an out-of-work drunk, he tries to make a living as an artist, but as their relationship deteriorates, some home truths from their childhood surface, and shatters everything. Part of the problem lies with their father’s suicide aged only thirty five, partly as a result of the mother’s (Ruth Sheen) blind attitude towards him. An attitude which is reflected in her reaction to the stormy relationship between Steven and his wife Debbie (Maxine Peake)
‘Commit a crime, and the earth turns to glass’. Through Wallace Stevens’ quotation, we get a hint of the play’s meaning and I won’t elaborate in case I ruin the story.
One of the main reasons in wanting to see this play was the fact that the Llanelli born actor Trystan Gravelle was in the cast. I was very impressed with his performance last year in Clwyd Theatre Cymru’s production of Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’. Again, I was not disappointed in his portrayal of the younger brother, especially in the cellar scene, as the two brothers had a heart-to-heart for the first time. This is the scene which really captured my attention and took me in totally as their childhood was taken apart by candlelight. As the tears welled up in his eyes, there were a few in my eye too. Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of the older brother also deserves praise – from his confident hard shell at the start of the play to the pitiful sensitivity in his grief. Maxine Peake was also a joy to watch as the pregnant wife, taking all the snipes from her proud husband, and also Ruth Sheen as the mother. Four performances that beautifully came together and intertwined.
But there were also weaknesses in Lisa Goldman’s first production as the new artistic director of the theatre. I have to be totally honest and declare that it took me an hour to get into the family’s story. It was a good move not to include an interval as I’m not sure if I would have returned, but I’m glad that I saw the final hour. It was only with the moving scene by candlelight that I felt a part of the story and wanted to find out what was to happen to both of them.
The set design was simple – two revolves with the furniture and props placed onto them from behind the tabs, before turning them to their place. But the screen or window upstage was totally pointless, especially when it was brought downstage, and the characters placed behind it. This didn’t add anything to the scene, or the meaning of it.
This production has received great reviews in the Press, winning four stars in the Sunday Times last week. Although there were elements that deserved the praise, they were rare, and as delicate as the glass leaves in the title of the play. ‘Leaves of Glass’ can be seen at the Soho Theatre until the 26th of May. For more information, please visit www.sohotheatre.com