Black Velvet – Drayton Arms Theatre, London

Reviewer: John Cutler

Writer: Christina Knight

Director: Eamon O’Flynn

Llew, who is 22 and already a dad, arrives at his mum’s grave at a churchyard in Shooters Hill. He does not want to go home because Stevie the cat has had a fight and there is blood all over the kitchen. Llew cannot bear the sight of blood and we soon learn the house holds forbidding memories. So, he has brought flowers, a burger, chips, and a flask of tea, and plans on spending the night chatting to his late parent.

Much to Llew’s (Charles Ison) indignation, he finds 17-year-old Aoife (Christina Knight who also writes) dressed in black velvet and sleeping behind his mum’s grave. “Find somebody else’s grave to haunt,” he tells her. It transpires Aoife has been there a week and three days, unable to bear the thought of leaving her own recently interred mother and convinced mum’s ghost must be there. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, one characterised by the kind of immediate, frank, intimacy that only complete strangers can ever really achieve. Can these unlikely sparring partners find a way of helping each other, and themselves, from the grief that engulfs them and the anger and guilt they feel over past inadequacies?

There is a touch of absurdism in Knight’s likeable two-hander Black Velvet, not just in the humour the writer mines from the darkness but in the absence of much by way of a narrative. Not an awful lot happens although there is enough of a slow burn of past revelations to keep the momentum up. The duo bicker, drink wine, share chips, confess past sins (imagined or otherwise) and discuss grief: it is like “watching sad scenes on silent, like an old movie” one of them says. Aoife flirts. Llew rejects her. She punches him in helpless fury, then relents and the bickering recommences. Perhaps companionship and fellow feeling are the best this mismatched couple can hope for.

Ison, (a recent Royal Central School of Speech and Drama alumnus, as are Knight and director Eamon O’Flynn) plays Llew as a kind of verbose, nervous, good-hearted soul who wears sensible anoraks and possibly goes birdwatching when not mourning. Knight’s Aoife is simultaneously combative and vulnerable; “an angry, angry person” who cannot quite forgive her mum for leaving and is determined to give her a row if they ever meet in the afterlife.

It has to be said, it stretches credibility to think not a single person has apparently noticed the teen Aoife is missing for ten days, nor do we know what sustenance she lives on. The electric lights crackle and flicker ominously every now and then. Perhaps it is a reference to Blithe Spirit or TV’s Stranger Things. Either way, it is a directorial conceit that feels oddly out of place for such an earthbound piece.

Runs until 15 April 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Absurdist graveyard drama

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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