DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Gaps – Headrow House, Leeds

Reviewer: Adrian Ross

Writer and Director: Sam Adlam

Sam Adlam is a tall and genial host, talking about his year spent studying in Copenhagen and the rush to complete his dissertation. The University of Leeds student scored an extraordinary success at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022 with his debut play, Pillows. It was the best original play, performance and production by students your reviewer had ever seen. Now he’s followed this up by pulling together a production of his latest play with Aireborne Theatre.

“This is something I like to do,” he says, gesturing to the traverse-style seating that enables half the audience to see how the other half is reacting. “I’m glad we fitted this in before we all got too busy.”

It’s a remarkable feat. Gaps is a script that demands much of its two actors, whose verbal ping-pong requires precise timing and careful diction. It expands on the theme of the earlier play, exploring the blossoming and wilting of romantic love across a decade, in a series of gripping vignettes.

The language is sparky, poetic and laugh-out-loud funny in places, sometimes inviting comparison with Harold Pinter’s sardonic humour. Sam Adlam has a lot to say and crams a great deal into the running time of one hour and twenty minutes. The play is full of wisdom and searing emotional honesty. It’s compelling to watch and keeps the audience on its toes. It’s recommended for people aged over 16 and there are several sensitivity warnings on the poster outside the studio theatre, including for flashing light effects.

Eve Billington, one of the stars of Pillows, returns in the role of Charlie and gives an electrifying performance, their opening lines alternating between narration and dialogue. They own the stage. It’s not clear at first that they’re playing a male character, as the relationship appears to be same-sex, but then this does become apparent and the casting works perfectly. Sophie Apthorp is excellent as Jo, sparring with Charlie and matching his energy, not least in some well-choreographed dance sequences.

The play is not as focused as Pillows, it’s more diffuse, but it’s covering a lot more ground. Two or three audience members are asked to participate in an easy, non-scary way, which is fine, but it doesn’t really add much. If the effect is a little patchy, there are pockets of brilliance throughout.

Sometimes significant advances in the arts come at unlikely times and places like these. In this accomplished production, Sam Adlam has shown once again that he has a sophisticated grasp of both theatre and people. He shows every sign of being a natural born playwright.

Runs until 4th February 2024.

The Reviews Hub Score

Dazzling and compelling

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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