Review - Leaves of Glass - Park Theatre, London

Leaves of Glass - Park Theatre, London

With just two rows of seats surrounding the stage of the Park Theatre’s intimate Park90 auditorium, you’re never far from the action in this revival of Philip Ridley’s play that at times feels almost immersive.

The staging of this play some 16 years after it was performed at the Soho Theatre is equally minimal, just 4 black benches populate the stage and, with minimal use of props, all of the focus is on the quartet of performers for the duration of the 100 minutes the play runs.

Leaves of Glass is not for the feint hearted, the themes are dark to say the least – trauma, suicide, addiction and mental illness weave through the story of two brothers, Steven and Barry, their matriarchal mother Liz and Steven’s wife Debbie.

The play isn’t afraid to explore the less conventional family dynamic focussing on the ‘Secrets and Lies’ as Mike Leigh so accurately captured in his film. The story looks over past and current events in the lives of the characters and their individual interpretations and memories of the same event show us just how differently we can perceive the same things and how challenging this can be to accept and as the play progresses so does the growing unease – it feels intentional that there’s no interval, no time to come up for air and pause – thankfully the pace is snappy and never drags.  By the conclusion. the emotion and energy within the theatre is palpable.

The performances are exceptional – Ned Costello (who never leaves the stage) as Steven, the glue that (barely) holds everything together, the would-be voice of reason in an unreasonable world delivers a measured and believable portrayal of a man struggling underneath but trying his best to put a brave face on. Joseph Potter likewise shines as the brother Barry – the opposite of his ‘successful’ brother, he struggles with alcohol and keeping a job, preferring to put his faith in crystals over family. Katie Buchholz plays Steven’s wife, Debbie and as the ‘outsider’ to the family she gives us an exterior perspective of events. In the role of Liz, the mother of the boys, Kacey Ainsworth asks the audience to consider how we interact with an older generation, her denial or downplaying of the issues within the family provide another layer to the ongoing drama played out on stage.

If there were one criticism of the production, it would be that the intimate staging for all of the benefit it brings in terms of atmosphere can mean that during scenes that the view of the cast is from an angle where subtleties in facial expression and smaller details can be missed.  That said, it’s an acceptable compromise in my opinion to trade off with the intimacy and thus intensity of the production.

This show was reviewed on the 15th May 2023.  Leaves of Glass runs at the Park Theatre until the 3rd June 2023.  Tickets available here: Leaves of Glass | Projects | Park Theatre

***** stars

Mike Stocks

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