Luce – Southwark Playhouse, London

Writer: JC Lee
Director: Simon Dormandy
Reviewer: Tom Finch


JC Lee’s Luce is receiving its UK premiere in Southwark Playhouse’s ‘little’ space, which in a dark, thrust configuration is the perfect setting for this drama to unfold. With the actors joining the audience and watching the play unfold to its uncomfortable conclusion it’s impossible to be sure who is telling the truth and who to root for.

The play begins with a meeting between Luce’s teacher Harriet (played with an indignant fire by Natasha Gordon) and Luce’s mother, Amy (a wonderful turn by Bake Off presenter Mel Giedroyc). Luce has written a disturbing essay which praises an Easter European right-wing terrorist. Harriet also discovered some dangerous and illegal fireworks in the student’s locker. Or did she?

This meeting sets off a chain of events in which a family is forced to consider how much they know about each other and how much do they really want to know.

Martins Imhangbe’s Luce appears to be a well-liked, intelligent honour student but, as the accusations start flying, a darker side makes itself apparent. An encounter between Luce and his teacher is a tense, menacing scene in which the student seems to be in control. Does he threaten her? It’s hard to say.

Therein lies the excellent of Lee’s script. Just enough information is given to make one sure of the facts but within a couple of lines everything has been turned on its head. It makes for an intriguing, tense drama.

The contradictions are fascinating to unravel. Giedroyc’s Amy googles everything and is the archetypal worrying mother yet she seems unwilling to look into the mind of her troubled son.

Played on Dick Bird’s stark set, the emphasis is very much on the people at the centre of the story. It’s frustrating then that the tension seems to wane despite Lee’s superb script. The tension is often evident but rarely palpable meaning that the final scenes lose some of their punch.

David Gregory’s sound design comes some way to compensating for his with eerie music and menacing rumblings filling the claustrophobic air.

There are some great comedic moments which are often cut by a heartbreaking truth. A scene in which Amy meets Luce’s school friend Stephanie (Elizabeth Tan) raised frequent laughs before taking on a darker much more uncomfortable edge.

This is a very topical play examining our relationships with authority, social media, family and belief systems. It’s well worth a watch.

Runs until 2 April 2016 | Image:Oliver King Photography

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