Thursday, September 28

Leaves of Glass – Hope Mill Theatre

This play is exceptional. If only I could end my review there!

Philip Ridley has written a truly heartbreaking exploration of how we use memory to protect, to manipulate and to hide; and I was captivated from start to finish. As we see glimpses of Steven’s life in the present day, and flashbacks to his childhood, we start to build a picture of Steven and his family. But is everything as clear as it seems?

The acting in this play is outstanding. Director Max Harrison has brought out every drop of subtle emotion and humanity from this incredible cast of four.

Ned Costello as Steven never leaves the stage. He gives a stunningly authentic performance, whether in the middle of a monologue or with one of his scene partners. His ability to move us from present to past with just a clenched fist is indicative of his physical awareness and his incredible talent.

Kacey Ainsworth plays Steven’s mum, Liz; and she walks a very fine line of protectiveness and vulnerability that is quite simply mesmerising. Joseph Potter’s portrayal of Steven’s brother, Barry, was so nuanced, despite being loaded with pain. And finally, Katie Buchholz plays Steven’s wife, Debbie. Her role seemed slightly more confined within the play, but despite that, she had natural chemistry with Costello, and their evolving relationship provided a key point of reference as Ridley’s text played with our perceptions.

There is so much light and shade in each performance, which builds and eases tension as needed and kept me fully engaged without being overwhelming, which it easily could have been, in light of the serious subject matter.

It isn’t just the performances that make this production great. By setting it in the round, with a very minimal set, the space feels incredibly intimate. Being surrounded by audience members, who are watching so intently, adds even more pressure to the interactions on stage. And the production runs without an interval, with no escape from that pressure and intensity, meaning that you feel the inevitability of racing towards a powerful conclusion – even as you become increasingly unsure of what that conclusion might be.

The lighting – designed by Alex Lewer – is so clever; delineating past and present with clarity and drawing the audience to well-selected points of focus at different points of the story. I also loved the way that darkness is used to its maximum effect, which works particularly well in the Hope Mill Theatre. Sound designer Sam Glossop makes the most of the intimacy of the space and I was really impressed by how well everyone and everything could be heard.

I love the fact that nearly 24 hours on I still can’t stop thinking about these characters, trying to unravel their accusations and confessions. It is so challenging to watch a play that doesn’t provide you with all the answers, and really makes you think. Particularly as the characters and relationships feel so incredibly real and relatable. And I’m still considering all the things I know about glass: forged under pressure, transparent, beautiful… This play is not letting go of me any time soon!

Don’t miss this production if you have any free time this week at all!

Leaves of Glass continues at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester until Saturday 8th July. More information and ticket links can be found here: Be aware that the play runs without an interval for 1 hour 45 minutes. Please also note the suggested minimum age (14+) and the content warnings: References to suicide, domestic violence, strong language, mental health issues, sudden loud noises, and allusions to child abuse.

Reviewer: Jo Tillotson

Reviewed: 3rd July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.