Eleventh Hour Theatre
theSpace on the Mile
It’s worth noting that Coward Conscience is, by its nature, an unofficial sequel to the famous J B Priestley play An Inspector Calls but finding two of the myriad characters from that earlier play, brother and sister Eric and Sheila Birling, now caught in the meat grinder of the Great War. The pair take turns to speak in the form of a series of epistolary monologues, slowly but surely opening up to each other about the horrors of their experiences and the guilt each feels over their past.
It’s impressive that Coward Conscience still works even without the audience knowing that it is working as a follow-up to An Inspector Calls. The bitter recriminations as well as the way the sibling pair cling together in their guilt are empathetic as well as abstractly relatable. But for those who do know, there is a far deeper thematic resonance here, as well as a much clearer understanding of the hints at wrongs done to the unnamed young woman of which both characters speak.
The staging is by nature simplistic, but this isn’t a problem. After a slightly meandering beginning as the particulars of the situation become clear, the moving of the cast around the two chairs and the few candles dotted around the set are all that is needed. The power and the strength of the writing and the performances do enough to sell this confrontational and confessional piece.
There were a few minor technical errors at the end, but that was less distracting than an unfortunate loud conversation being held just outside the venue door by punters leaving another show, and venue staff failed to move them along for several minutes. Obviously, this is no fault of the production, and it's to the credit of all involved that the actors ploughed on, teary-eyed and pleading, through their monologues regardless. It’s just a shame that happened at all.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan