Leaves of Glass ★★★★★

Philip Ridley’s 2007 play Leaves of Glass is revived at Park Theatre with a new production by longtime collaborators, Lidless Theatre

Written by respected playwright (as well as novelist, director, artist and screenwriter) Philip Ridley, the action of Leaves of Glass takes place in the modern day East End of London, centring on brothers Steven and Barry, their mother Liz and Steven’s wife Debbie. 

We first meet the brothers when Steven visits Barry only to find him incoherent and raving after relapsing with drink and possible other drugs.  It becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time and  Barry has a history with alcohol abuse. It’s only later as the story of his childhood unfolds  that the cause of his behaviour becomes clearer.

Punctuating the play from the start and throughout, Steven recalls his childhood memories of his father, making uneasy eye contact with the audiences whilst sharing his stories. It gradually emerges what happened to the father. The consequences from his death are interwoven through the lives of the remaining family members. Ridley expertly explores how that pivotal event directly and indirectly has affected all of their behaviours.

All images by Mark Senior

Ned Costello as Steven, in a performance where he never leaves the stage, gives a compelling performance,  veering between a composed self-made business man and loving husband, to being vacant cold and calculating with a tendency towards violent outbursts. Like his brother, the events from childhood start to have an impact on Steven’s crumbling mental state, especially when he confesses to seeing the ghost of a boy which makes him crash his car. 

Barry (convincing played by Joseph Potter) is a contrast to his brother, artistic and a romantic, unreliable and as already witnessed has a history of alcohol abuse. However as Steven’s mental state declines (which his mother flippantly refers to as a “fluey bug thing”), Barry on the other hand gets himself clean and starts to rebuild a stable life as a successful artist.

What is clever is the underlying power play between the characters, each having their own agendas for remembering details, or not, differently. The loaded question “You remember?” is never far from any characters’ lips. Throughout you are never sure if the person questioning the other’s memories of events and conversations is deliberately choosing to remember things differently to suit their own narrative and coerce others into the same point of view, or whether they have subconsciously buried the details as a method of self preservation. Recollections may vary, indeed! 

Liz, played wonderfully by Kacey Ainsworth, has the comedic warmth of Catherine Tate crossed with a typical East End matriarch that you mind find in Albert Square, whilst concealing a more sinister controlling side. It’s when she tells the story of the glass tree ornament with its glass leaves that it finally emerges whose truth is real and who is being coerced and controlled into believing  a very different narrative. 

The time span of the story follows the nine months of Debbie’s (Katie Buchholz) pregnancy and as the outsider of the family, it’s evident that she has a strong relationship with both Barry and Liz. Katie portrays the the secretary who got to marry the boss with conviction,  without descending into a stereotypical East End wife.  She also portrays a darker side to  Debbie, as it becomes apparent that maybe she has fitted in too well in to the family dynamic in order to get and protect the life that she wants.

The minimal set and stripped back-lighting allows director Max Harrison to focus in on the characters’ unfolding truths as they are revealed and in turn denied whilst we witness the family and their relationships being pushed to breaking point.

Ridley’s script is a timeless story which delves deep in to the emotions and motivations of this dysfunctional family. The characters are captivating and although their motivations are often questionable, the strong cast each draw out some sympathy for their characters. 

Leaves of Glass is an intimate production that tantalisingly draws you into the minds of the characters and channengingly twists your perception of where the truth lies until the very end. 

A family divided but no disputing ★★★★★ 5 stars

Leaves of Glass

Leaves of Glass runs at Park Theatre until 3rd June

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