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A Thousand Yards

Southwark Playhouse

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Lucy is a picture librarian with an over-developed conscience. As A Thousand Yards opens, she is losing her sight and has reached the last chance saloon of a psychiatrist who may be a quack but does, at least, claim to cure psychosomatic blindness.

Abi Zakarian, whose first staged play this is, has her heart in the right place and the underlying concept of a woman who has seen so many horrors that she is unwilling to see more is promising.

The analogy of footsoldiers in the trenches who eventually see only for "A Thousand Yards" in a bid to escape reality seems fair in a world dominated by media images of death and destruction.

Lucy's predicament is coloured by her meetings with three men. Her former lover Hal, played by Ruairi Conaghan, is a Don McCullin type of war photographer who regularly risks life and limb to show the public the depths of depravity that their species can stoop to. Lucy blames him, or more accurately some of his photos, for her impending loss of sight but is this fair?

Gerard Kearns who has made his name as Ian in Shameless plays 17-year-old Kid A (or more prosaically Jeremy). He is also sending himself blind though for less well-defined reasons. Although he is described as an eternal optimist, his condition belies this judgement.

Renewed love for Hal, when added to the Kid's friendship and the assistance of the unconventional Dr Tobits (John Webb), eventually helps Lucy to face and overcome her demons.

Susan Vidler gives a fine and very sympathetic performance as Lucy. She holds things together as the tyro playwright's authorial voice intrudes more and more.

Miss Zakarian is far too clever for her own good. Her desire to make points leads to an overly-contrived plot that director, Roísín McBrinn might have helped to pare back. The latter otherwise does well, sensibly ensuring that there are rarely more than two actors on stage at any point, in her attempts to maintain focus.

The staging is effective, designer Paul Wills using the underlit Black Box space with a bare thrust stage and simple props such as wheel-on chairs and laptops. These are placed in front of a large screen that is used at the start to project the kind of photographs that have affected Lucy so drastically.

A Thousand Yards should be praised for raising important issues about the way that we live and the media's incredible desire to show voyeuristic images of slaughter and starvation, profiting from, rather than helping the victims. With a clearer brief to make a few simple points rather than dozens of subtle ones, it could have been far more potent.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher