River in the Sky
Reviewed – 8th August 2019
“Turn Point Theatre’s production is poignant yet warming, but a more daring approach to the acting would do justice to this original and thoughtful play”
Ellie and Jack dream of having a family. After a series of miscarriages, they have a son. But he dies and their world is shattered. ‘River in the Sky’ exposes their contrasting reactions for coping with the loss and pain – to detach from the familiar past or immerse oneself in it – until they realise that they need to help each other work through the mourning and begin to heal. Over the comfort of tea and biscuits, they argue to release the unsaid and distract and reconnect by telling each other stories of fantastical beasts.
Writer and director, Peter Taylor, captures and bonds both human and dramatic elements of the couple’s agonising fragility, artfully incorporating the various stages of bereavement into their own experience. He personifies grief as the enormous, overpowering monsters in their tales, the pair struggling separately to overcome them; only when they finally join forces can they challenge their demons. Taylor weaves the many layers of this distressing and complex subject into an imaginative drama. From the clever riddle of the first scene, we get wrapped up in the detailed descriptions of fighting against these oppressive powers and then, like the characters, we are brought back to earth, reminding them and us of the inescapable continuity of everyday life.
Howard Horner portrays Jack with a genuine disarray of torn emotions. We are drawn to the young father’s tenderness, caught up in his vivid nightmares and empathise with his confused feelings of attachment towards Ellie. Only at the end when he briefly mirrors the child is there a slightly uncomfortable, affected moment. As Ellie, Lindsey Cross’s performance is lower key. Her storytelling lacks the passion of one desperately running away from reality; she creates expressive movement to the words but there is little dynamic contrast in her voice or pacing. It is as if the volume button has been turned down vocally and emotionally and, though sensitive to the script, it comes across more as a poetical rendering. Anastasija Roitenberga’s sparing stage set of four large cubes works as cliff, rocks, table, chairs, cot… as well as looking, perhaps unintentionally, like children’s building blocks; her lighting adds spirit to the illusions.
The title ‘River in the Sky’ could be interpreted in various ways. It is perhaps the power and inevitability of nature, a boundary to be crossed, the perception of time passing or simply life itself, from source to sea. Turn Point Theatre’s production is poignant yet warming, but a more daring approach to the acting would do justice to this original and thoughtful play.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography courtesy Turn Point Theatre
River in the Sky
Hope Theatre until 24th August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: