“All three actors are at their best as Liam, lively and energetic and sad”
In rural Ireland, three friends meet to commemorate something that happened 17 years ago – the death of their mate Liam. But none of them are 17 anymore, and the night is a mix of memory and present day revelations. It’s supposed to be a big one – 17 years later, and 17 when he died, but the rest of the lads are in town for the birthday of someone none of them know, and only Pa, Barry and Cusack show up to mark the anniversary. Still, they line up the cans, Pa passes out the drugs and they get the darts out.
The whole play (set and costume design by Naomi Faughnan) is set in the shack they used to go to, the gang of them, when they were teenagers. There’s a single flashing strip light (lighting design Zia Bergin-Holly), empty beer cans, faded deck chairs, candles, a table the wrong way up, a bed and mattress separated on either side of the room. It’s a claustrophobic space, and outside all we can hear is rain pouring down (sound design Peter Power).
Occasionally the pace is too slow, and the piece as a whole does feel longer than it needs to be. But the actors help to carry it through. Rhys Dunlop plays Pa, perhaps the character most in pain, still reeling, apparently living more in the past than in any kind of future. He delivers a particularly moving performance as the story unfolds. Barry is played by Colin Campbell, again another very convincing performance, whilst Conor Madden plays Cusack, the new father of the group, who has some lovely moments although begins acting drunk too early which makes the mid-point of his performance feel repetitive.
Each actor takes a turn to morph into Liam and deliver a monologue in three pieces which tells the story of what really happened the night he died. All three actors are at their best as Liam, lively and energetic and sad.
Flights, written by John O’Donovan and directed here by Thomas Martin is a poignant play about grief and about male friendships. It’s about the way that people change as they get older, set in an Ireland none of them are quite ready to leave.
“Good writing and good theatre allow issues to be explored without spoon-feeding ideas”
In the year ending March 2019, 5,738 referrals were made to the UK’s anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent. The most common source of referrals was Education and one in ten were deemed worthy of further action through the de-radicalisation programme known as Channel. Finborough Theatre’s writer on attachment, Joe Marsh explores bias, community and the education system in Althea Theatre’s production of The Glass Will Shatter at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham.
Told through a series of flashbacks, the play follows Rebecca (Josephine Arden), a middle-class, white, neurotic and former teacher as she attempts to overcome her recurring nightmares by addressing their source: a confrontation she had had with former pupil Amina (Naima Swaleh)- a second-generation Somali and aspiring rapper. Between the two sits the steadying presence of Jamilah (Alma Eno), now school principal, who has agreed to meet with Rebecca for a catch-up.
Although it gets off to a rocky start; seemingly due to an inherent problem with the setup – a series of stilted conversations in a coffee shop between the emotionally closed Rebecca and Jamilah, who haven’t met for years – “Are you sure you don’t want a coffee?”. Marsh has nonetheless written a beautiful and witty play that highlights the tragic combination of systematised programmes such as Prevent and the inherent bias and insecurities of the individuals encouraged to enact them.
Once properly underway, Director Lilac Yosiphon builds the pace cycling through the series of flashbacks with swift changes to the moveable set punctuated by short movement sequences. All of which was supplemented by Will Monks’ lighting design which employed striking laser projections through heavy stage smoke. The large glass window (that one feels must shatter, Chekovesque) at times captured and contained all of that smoke in a way reminiscent of the design for Debbie Tucker Green’s Ear for Eye.
Naima Swaleh provides an especially watchable performance as Amina; playing the confident street-kid foil to Rebecca’s neuroticism. Jamilah completed the triumvirate as the wise head between the two and showing that emotional intelligence counts for much in education, as it does in life. All of which builds to a satisfying and emotional denouement when Rebecca finally gets face to face with her (now long-since graduated) tormentor.
Good writing and good theatre allow issues to be explored without spoon-feeding ideas. I left the theatre with a very clear set of conclusions (both tragic and self-confronting) to the problems raised. However, such is the complexity and at times a nebulous subject, it’s entirely possible for another viewer to leave holding a different set of sympathies. That, above all, is much to the production’s credit.