About Leaves of Glass

Monday 29th May 2023

Jospeh Potter and Ned Costello in Leaves of Glass. Photo: Mark Senior
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Polymath Philip Ridley has a rare superpower — he able to consistently astonish both audiences and critics. The minute you think you know what a “Philip Ridley play” is, the next one is different. In 2007, a couple of years after his controversial masterpiece Mercury Fur raised critical hackles, his new play, Leaves of Glass, was completely different, yet at the same time recognizably Ridleyesque. Now revived in a stunning production, directed by Max Harrison in the intimate studio space of the Park Theatre, it proves both the playwright’s versatility and the joy that a great piece of writing offers actors. Leaves of Glass is a psychologically acute family drama, in which a single line can offer more insight into our emotions than a chapter in a psychology textbook, as well as a highly polished piece of new writing, with image arias that open up the mind with visual suggestions of glittering glass, leafy foliage and the ice of frozen relationships. A story about two brothers, Steven and Barry, whose dark past threatens Steven’s pregnant wife Debbie as well as their mother Liz, the play beautifully explores not only the lasting effects of childhood trauma, but also memory and denial. As many families know, the past can be a territory whose character is contested and where guilty secrets lurk waiting for the light. Ridley brilliantly tells this story in 18 scenes which show the ups and downs of Steven and Barry’s lives in a psychologically thrilling and emotionally taut masterwork. Harrison’s in-the-round production, designed by Kit Hinchcliffe, pulses with such dynamic energy that its 100 minutes of running time do exactly that — they dash by. A superlative cast — Ned Costello (Steven), Joseph Potter (Barry), Kacey Ainsworth (liz) and Katie Buchholz (Debbie) — are electrifying on stage, helped no doubt by Harrison’s decision not to block their moves, but to give them the freedom to make every show different. In the words of innovative director hero Mike Alfreds, this play is different every night. You have to gasp with admiration at the emotional intensity that, given this freedom, the cast deliver. In particular, Potter and Costello throw themselves into their parts with an exciting, almost intoxicating physicality. In the words of the show’s publicity, it’s a “play about memory you will never forget”. Yes, I had an amazing time. And then there was the the post-show Q&A, with Ridley and the cast. The playwright was, as usual, marvelously open and charming about his passion for constant rewrites of his work, while the cast generously shared their experiences and feelings with the audience. All together it was a wonderful experience, full of energy and leaving a glow of pleasure. On the way home, I just kept smiling at the memory of a great evening.

© Aleks Sierz

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