Philip Ridley’s Leaves of Glass is regarded as a modern classic; the show premiered at Soho Theatre in 2007 in a critically acclaimed run which starred the now BAFTA-awarded Ben Whishaw. Now, 16 years on, Lidless Theatre brings us a new thrilling production of this four-hander.

Credit: Mark Senior

Set in East London, Leaves of Glass centres around two brothers, Steven (Ned Costello) and Barry (Joseph Potter). Steven is rich and successful but has a violent streak, and Barry is an artist battling addiction. The cast is completed by their mother Liz (Kacey Ainsworth) and Steven’s wife Debbie (Katie Buchholz). All the characters are flawed, Liz, for instance, doesn’t seem to understand how to deal with mental health issues, instead sugar-coating them and referring to them as the ‘fluey bug thing’; she didn’t know how to deal with her husband’s struggles and left him to his own devices. Liz also doesn’t want to listen to her son’s concerns or talk about seemingly ‘difficult’ topics, she refuses to see the bad in her children and instead makes excuses for them.

The staging by Kit Hinchcliffe is simple, performed in the round with just four black benches and a shiny stage floor, there is nothing to detract from the performances. There are some clunky set changes during the show, but the limited space in Park90 makes this challenging.

Potter’s performance as Barry is gut-wrenching and filled with palpable emotion. It is so clear Barry is struggling that it makes you want to shout at the other characters to make them realise this and get him help. Costello’s Steven is anger-inducing, he does a great job of bringing to life a character whose smarminess is enough to detest – exactly as the character should be. The relationship between Debbie and Steven lacks chemistry, instead, they aptly fit the bickering married couple trope.

Credit: Mark Senior

Ridley’s script spends far too much time setting up the story, it takes too long for the audience to connect to the characters, which for the first half feel one-dimensional. Quite a lot of time passes before we realise there’s anything under the surface of them. For this reason, the suspense and drama built plateaus in the middle, as nothing much has occurred, I can see that having an interval may have caused audience members to not return. Max Harrison’s production is weighty and intense, there are minimal moments of light peppered throughout, and this at times means the play is excruciating to watch – not in a bad way – the tension is simply enough to place you on the edge of your seat and disable your ability to exhale. To have the climax of the play, occur in complete darkness, except for a candelabra, surrounds the audience in heavy darkness, which makes the scene atmospheric, Harrison makes us sit in the drama of this scene for a while, creating a truly remarkable moment within the play.

The major theme throughout the production is memory, how what we remember can differ from the truth, and how sometimes we choose to remember things differently as it’s less painful; the show begs the question – can we trust our memories? And whose narrative do we, the audience, trust?

Leaves of Glass is a gripping production, thick with tension which creates some truly chilling moments, with stunning, emotional performances, and so many reveals, you’re not sure what to believe. There are some tweaks to be made, some edits of the script could ensure the characters are established a lot sooner, and keep the momentum of the play up throughout, avoiding the plateau in the middle. But this compelling play is more than deserving of being regarded as a modern classic.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Leaves of Glass is on at Park Theatre until the 3rd of June – you can find more info here.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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