“as meaningful a piece of drama as when it was first written”
Lidless Theatre presents a revival of Philip Ridley’s 2007 East End family drama minimally directed by Max Harrison. Played in the round with an acting space restricted by black benches on four sides (Designer Kit Hinchcliffe), it’s a small square to work in but the movement never appears cramped. With audience all around and a mirror glass floor reflecting upwards, the four characters are under examination from all directions.
Excellently lit throughout (Lighting Designer Alex Lewer) the mood is dark and brooding and none better than in the scene almost totally lit by candlelight, highlighting the action whilst emphasising the fears that lurk in the shadows. This atmosphere is heightened during scene changes by a strange and eerie soundscape (Sound Designer Sam Glossop).
Harrison writes in his programme note, that the play is about the elusiveness of memory and how the past can be manipulated to shape our lives. And, in fact, shape the lives of others. The relationship between two brothers is key. A relationship that is tainted by the memory of their pasts. They are both quite clear what they remember. It’s just that what they remember isn’t the same.
Truth is an elusive thing. What is the real reason that Debbie leaves the home and flees to her sister? A fear of rats in the cellar or of domestic abuse? And Liz (Kacey Ainsworth), mother to the two boys, changes her recollections of Barry’s artwork from something she thought hideous to something she remembers as beautiful. Memories are twisted and can’t be trusted.
Smartly dressed with his hair cut short, Steven (Ned Costello) is the elder brother and driving force in the family company. His lips tightly pursed, he is near monosyllabic when forced into conversation, responding to questioning with silence and a distant stare. The same response too when wife Debbie (Katie Buchholz) announces she is expecting their first child. But is Steven the father? Steven paranoically suggests he might not be.
Barry (Joseph Potter) is all that Steven is not. Dressed casually, hair flying free, he bounds with energy, a wildness lying behind his eyes. If Steven retains self-control, a coiled spring held in check, then Barry is that coil let go, a free spirit. If Steven’s languid articulation seems like something is being left unsaid, then Barry might suggest it is because his brother is repressing something unsavoury.
The cast of four are excellent together. Only the estuary vowels of the four Londoners, Liz particularly, close a little too near to soap opera at times.
This work is as meaningful a piece of drama as when it was first written. With its hints of shocking secrets that the family are unable to voice out loud, this production brings to the fore taboos of modern society that need to be shouted out loud.
“Georgie Staight’s no-frills revival is powerful and chilling”
Penelope Skinner’s Eigengrau, originally produced in London in 2010, follows the intersecting lives of four young people struggling to get by in London. Cassie works for a feminist organisation that lobbies parliament. Rose believes in fairies and star signs and true love. Mark is a womanising marketing bro. Tim, suffering from depression, barely manages his shifts at a fast food takeaway. Their lives intertwine with devastating consequences in this modern-day Grimm’s fairytale.
Director Georgie Staight’s no-frills revival is powerful and chilling. With a sparse, efficient set (Bex Kemp) – just a few wooden boxes used as benches and tables – Staight boldly strips the show down to its leanest form. Fast-paced and highly entertaining, there isn’t a dull moment in its nearly two-hour runtime.
Staight’s faith in the strength of her cast to carry the show barefaced, without the padding of excessive design, is not misplaced. Four well-selected actors deliver accomplished performances. George Fletcher is easily convincing as the cocky, manipulative Mark. Callum Sharp is subtle yet nuanced as the harmless – but perhaps not quite – Tim Muffin. Isabel Della-Porta wholly owns her role as the strong but still immature feminist Cassie. And Katie Buchholz shines, earning her place as the star of the show, with an exceptional performance as the idealistic, desperate Rose. Buchholz is captivating: fluttery and electric with madness at all of her edges. She effortlessly draws focus and holds it for the duration she’s on stage. Like a violin string wound too tight, she keeps us on edge, uneasily wondering when she’ll snap. Cassie says she’s a little bit afraid of Rose. We are too.
Although there are moments of the play that feel dated – in the post-Metoo era, a ‘feminist’ is no longer a curiosity – Staight is smart in realising the many ways Eigengrau is immediately relevant. Men pretending to be woke (or worse, believing they are), while demeaning and manipulating women, are still sharks in 2019 waters. And the overall feminist message still rings true: Rose embodies the damage done by years of consuming misogynist ideology packaged as fairytales and rom-coms. Disinterest from men means she’s deficient. There’s no relationship that can’t be fixed by the right dress and a grand gesture. It’s no wonder her optimism, at the age of twenty-seven, is beginning to take on a manic quality. Cassie wants Rose to see the world for what it is: cruel and oppressive, full of untrustworthy people. But Rose shuts her eyes to any evidence that contradicts her belief the world is a good place. If the world is hideous, isn’t it better to be blind?
Eigengrau is the name for the shade of black seen by the eye in perfect darkness. With this revival, Staight is shrewd asking the woke generation of 2019 – who see, daily, the harsh realities of a sinister society no longer bothering to disguise its hate – how tempting, how soothing, must eigengrau be? To shut your eyes, shut it all out, even for a moment? But while eigengrau may seem like a safe haven, Skinner’s story reminds us of the danger in seeking it. No progress can be made in darkness. There’s no going back to sleep, now that we’re awake.
With this production of Eigengrau, Staight is asking feminist questions that, nine years later, audiences still need to hear. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Skinner’s enthralling, razor sharp play revived by a strong cast.