Writer and Director: Rikki Beadle-Blair
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
If you have ever written to a television station to complain about offensive programming, then you may not find this a pleasant evening at the theatre. Rikki Beadle-Blair has created a twisted love letter to family, to ‘Sarf-East’ London and to secrets with this piece and he has left nothing out. This is a genuinely upsetting work at times, a terribly powerful piece of theatre that provokes, that demands a visceral reaction. This is a challenging work, a shocking work that forces the viewer to confront their most basic ethical codes, and a work that should not be missed.
It wouldn’t be fair to anyone to give too much away about the story. The show depends on each new layer of the narrative being stripped from the back of the scene before with the reveal, like with magic, providing a lot of the play’s emotional impact. In brief: Bridie Prospect lives in Bermondsey. Her four sons are the main characters and explaining the relationships they have with their mother, each other and their respective lovers is the meat of the story.
Even though it is terrifically funny, there is a lot of darkness in this play. As mentioned, it can get quite brutal to watch. There’s no real on-stage physical violence, but its effects are laid out for the world to see like a fragile insect pinned beneath a scope. The details of their lives and the intricacies of the threads that weave together to bind the characters to one another build up throughout the play until the audience is left at the end with no choice but to feel bonded to the family on stage as well. Beadle-Blair has created a work that shows us men and women making devastating character revelations that would compel us to report them to the police if they were our friends, but here we feel a sadness and sympathy that makes it impossible to hate the damaged folk onstage.
The set is bare apart from a few temporary props the cast bring on and off as needed, which helps the locations and times shift seamlessly as the action flits between the present day and the flashback past. The three walls of the square stage are mirrored, creating a carnivalesque hall of mirrors effect that show off the fantastic physicality of the piece to great effect.
There are so many different themes, so many different layers of meaning running around and so many things to take in that your really do have to pay attention throughout, it’s impossible not to so don’t worry about it. With not one weak link in the cast (James Farrar’s portrayal of Matt is an experience to watch in itself) the intricacies of the story are told perfectly. In a work with so many layers behind every utterance and action there is always the possibility that meaning could be lost but happily this doesn’t happen. Using accents and language as shorthand, the audience are brought up to speed immediately on who these boys are and where they’re from. Strong, violent, crystalline and sharp this is a play whose language is founded on poetry and the rhythms of true London voices. The language used is utterly beautiful and it’s always clear what the characters mean and how they feel. No mean feat given the complexity of the emotions to convey.
There are nine characters in this play, with Michael Nabarro’s sound and Theo Holloway’s lighting making it ten. It’s uncompromising in its emotional brutality and though the central thesis of the piece is the impact of lies it’s searingly honest. Go to the Theatre Royal. See what should be lauded as one of the year’s theatrical highlights. Leave the theatre confused, questioning, breathless, gutted.