Sunday, October 2

My Favourite Place in the Whole Wide World – Hope Mill Theatre

Trauma can have impact people in many different ways – some people grow and flourish from the ashes, some people can see their life, and the things that bring them comfort, cruelly collapse and leave them shattered.

Award-winning playwright Ian Townsend explores this journey along with themes of sexual identity, self-esteem and the very human craving of connection with others in his newest work, “My favourite place…”, directed by James Schofield.

In and amongst a simple set of stacked black and orange-striped boxes, we meet J and Ruth, two people who have endured their own childhood traumas, and who, through a cleverly executed moment of serendipity, are thrust into a most unlikely friendship.

The script is very much a tale of two halves. In part one, we watch each character lay out their individual experiences. J goes from a happy-go lucky, albeit neglected, five-year-old who loves nothing more than hiding in a tree in the rain to a young man struggling with school and the unwanted attentions of his Grandad’s friend Sid.

Ruth meanwhile is a bubbly three-year-old, ‘big for her age’, who adores singing in the car with her dad until, one day, he’s not there anymore and she has to live with a family friend, suffering repeated instances of bullying and humiliation that lead her to fight back and eventually get labelled a ‘problem teenager’.

Both have encounters that look like turning points but turn into acts of betrayal and lead them both into actions that have tragic consequences. They end up locked away from the world, either through choice (Ruth) or punishment (J) until in part two, years later, an argument over loud music in the block of flats they both now inhabit brings them together where they slowly open up to each other and share their experiences.

It’s a remarkable piece of storytelling thanks to Townsend’s beautifully crafted, whimsical, and often blackly funny, script and the superb performance from Ben Kenzie as J, and Claire Eden as Ruth.

Both actors bring their characters’ stories vividly to life, both emotionally and physically, excellently moving from innocent childhood through to cynical, untrusting adult life. Their ‘odd couple’ chemistry cements the tale together in a way that has you rooting for both of them, despite the sins of their past.

The storytelling is ably abetted with simple and highly effective projections from Jon Ormerod and lighting and sound from Ella Kay and Andy Greenwood respectively. The set itself is manipulated well to hint at doorways, shop counters and bathtubs (the last being a key plot point for the second half).

Despite being a demanding two-hander, thanks to the above, it has the slick sense of a well-honed ensemble piece with flairs of theatricality that shine out from the start set. And when have you ever seen a countdown to a denouement portrayed by (projected) buckets of water?

Occasionally the circumstances seem so unusual as to require a hefty suspension of disbelief but, despite everything the world throws at our two protagonists, the show still brings out satisfying green shoots of hope for their respective futures.

“My Favourite Place…” is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 6th March. For tickets go to https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/my-favourite-place-in-the-whole-wide-world

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 2nd March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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