Leaves of Glass

Philip Ridley
Lidless Theatre & Zoe Weldon in association with Park Theatre and Theatre Deli
Park Theatre

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Ned Costello as Stephen & Kacey Ainsworth as his mother Credit: Mark Senior
Joe Potter as Barry Credit: Mark Senior
Kacey Ainsworth as the mother Credit: Mark Senior

The family is often claimed as a place of safety, helping us to navigate the world, but the family in Philip Ridley’s unsettling play Leaves of Grass are haunted by ghosts of past trauma.

Stephen (Ned Costello) opens the show by recalling when he was fifteen and his brother Barry was ten. It is a time they both will return to throughout the play. He runs a London graffiti cleaning business that employs his artist brother, whom he visits in the second scene. The slightly alcoholic Barry (Joseph Potter) talks about needing to fight an imagined man that Stephen tries to reassure him doesn't exist.

If Stephen immediately seems the stable, reflective one, we soon realise that both brothers are deeply troubled. Perhaps the encounter weighs on his mind because, in the next scene, he seems too preoccupied to welcome the news from his partner Debbie (Katie Eldred) that she is pregnant.

The mystery deepens when later Stephen also grows paranoid, claiming he is repeatedly seeing the ghost of a small boy wearing a T-shirt, alleges that Barry is the father of Debbie’s pregnancy and tells his mother that there are rats in the cellar of his home.

A good deal of what the family says to each other could be a lie meant to cover up unpleasant truths. The mother (Kacey Ainsworth) claims the death of the father at age 36 just a few years earlier was an accident, she prefers to describe Stephen’s possible breakdown as a “fluey-bug thing” and when she is told Debbie left Stephen because he hit her, insists that it was really the rats in the cellar that prompted her departure.

Clues to the hidden trauma are scattered across the numerous brief scenes, and we do get to know the name of the boy who wore that T-shirt.

The audience sits on four sides of the show, their proximity to the actors giving claustrophobic intensity to the characters' barely repressed emotions of rage, guilt and resentment.

Ned Costello and Joseph Potter give impressive performances as the two brothers struggling to block memories they have tried so hard to ignore. The tight, believable surface dialogue seems to carry buried depths of grief and anxiety, even in the occasional moment of humour.

It's a riveting play that points to the disturbed, dysfunctional reality of the family for many people in this oppressive society.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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