Hide and Seek –VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Jonathan Marshall

Writer: Tobia Rossi

Director: Carlotta Brentan

Where better to stage an intimate two-hander set in a cave than in The Vaults beneath Waterloo Station? Tobia Rossi’s dark coming-of-age drama Hide and Seek tackles bullying, homophobia and acceptance among other weighty themes with a largely refreshing take on well-trodden terrain.

School boy Gio (Issam Al Ghussain) has run away and taken up residence in a cave in the woods. Equipped with bedding, bottles of water, a medical kit and some canned food, he has established a safe sanctuary from the outside world. Relentlessly bullied by his peers for being gay and simply not accepted by anyone in his orbit, Gio has removed himself from society. He persistently worries about his appearance and his hands are constantly concealed to mask severely bitten nails. An incident in the music room, which we later learn more about, was seemingly the final straw.

When popular peer Mirko (Nico Cetrulo) discovers the cave, Gio is indifferent about the panic and upset his disappearance has caused among his family, instead relishing the fact that he has become a talking point and finally been acknowledged. He is more concerned about how many views his latest TikTok post has gained and worried a photograph released to the press features him with a spot on his cheek. Ultimately revelling in the furore his actions have instigated prompts us and Mirko to question just how in touch with reality he is.

Rossi successfully taps into the current culture of social media and the unhealthy drive to obtain likes and shares particularly among younger generations. An entire play could be solely devoted to the crushing downsides of our obsession with such technology. While it feeds into Gio’s insecurities and his longing for acceptance, it is but one of many subjects explored over the course of 75 minutes.

With a simple set the success of the play is highly dependent on its two performers. Ghussain encapsulates his character’s nervous energy with aplomb. An array of facial expressions and his use of movement and body language exude his anxiety and uncertainty. He is endearing yet unpredictable. His actions are outlandish, yet we can see his justification for them, regardless of how misguided he might be.

Cetrulo in contrast captures the confidence of Mirko. Their initial interaction is convincingly awkward and Cetrulo takes his time in portraying his character’s increasing comfort in Gio’s presence. While Gio is openly gay, Mirko is in denial and struggling somewhat with his sexuality. He cares deeply about what others think and is fiercely defensive, adopting an armour that is delicately removed as the play progresses and he tentatively ventures into unexplored waters.

Director Carlotta Brentan, who also translates the Italian text, allows her actors suitable breathing space. This affords a high degree of naturalism, which makes any heightened moments all the more shocking and powerful. While the narrative is constantly moving forward, time is taken to showcase the multitude of emotions both characters are experiencing. We believe in them, thanks to the carefully considered direction and intricate performances. Although the climax is somewhat predictable, it is still shocking and tough to watch. The audience are undoubtedly left pondering the powerful and provocative ideas at the heart of the play, which ignites conversations about sexuality that we simply should not still be having.

The cave works well symbolically with Gio at one point explaining that “in the dark you can be whatever you want.” Much progress has been made in terms of inclusion, yet homophobia and various archaic attitudes frustratingly still reside in the modern world. Rossi refuses to gloss over reality, choosing instead to depict the battles that members of the LGBTQ+ community are still forced to face to simply be able to live their lives and be accepted. A sobering reminder both of how far we have come but how much further we still need to go.

Runs until 23 February 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Dark and disturbing

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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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