Eyes Closed, Ears Covered

Alex Gwyther

The Bunker Theatre and Alfred Taylor-Gaunt

Bunker Theatre

From 06 September 2017 to 30 September 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

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It is 1986 and Aaron and Sebastian are kids who have bunked off school. It’s a secret (they like secrets) but they are off on one of their adventures (they like adventures). This time they are going to Brighton where the plan is to meet up with Lily, the woman in a yellow dress in the photo that Seb still has, who said she will always be there for him.

Seb seems to suffer from some learning difficulties and Aaron to be prone to violent tempers but Aaron is protective of Seb who gets picked on by a bully at school. It is Aaron who planned how they to travel from Woking, changing trains at Clapham Junction, and thought up a cover story to explain why they are not at school. But what happened when they got to Brighton and what had happened before they left home?

Alex Gwyther starts his fascinating play with a 999 call in an opening blackout. It then becomes a police interrogation (of Aaron in the first act and Seb in the second) conducted by PC Mike Thompson and his colleague WPC Angela Mathews, played by Alex Wadham and Kira Mosley, whom, like other subsidiary characters in the story, we hear but don’t see. The boys’ answers become acted-out flashbacks as they retrace their journey or go back further into their lives revealing a traumatic background.

It is a play that is beautifully constructed and Alyson Cummins’s abstract setting of grey rostra and boxes makes it possible to move instantly from police station to railway carriage, roadside or beach with Jonnie Riordan’s movement direction adding to the fluency of Derek Anderson’s direction which draws splendid performances from former Eastenders regular Danny-Boy Hatchard as Aaron and Joe Idris-Roberts as Seb that are totally convincing.

In his haversack, Seb packed a Beano and the Marmite his dad disapproves of—and a hammer. What is that there for? He was supposed to find funds for their fares but his big plastic bag full of coins is not enough for two tickets so Aaron shuts himself in the lavatory to escape the inspector, comically showing Seb how he’ll pretend diarrhoea or fetching up. Though Aaron rehearses Seb in buying his ticket, he nearly cocks up when he gets to the counter. There is something touching about this protective relationship, these boys seem so innocent whatever they are up to.

Does Seb really see the woman in yellow or is this just a memory of when, unbeknown to his father, his mother took ten-year old Seb to Brighton? With that memory comes what happened after with Phoebe Thomas as Lily, his mother who had a yellow dress, and with that comes another twist to this gripping drama, a twist that some cleverer than me may have guessed at for it explains certain anomalies in the earlier plotting.

What began as a story about truancy develops into a play about domestic abuse and mental health. It’s not a tract and it doesn’t offer answers: but it is real theatre and it is stunningly acted.