Review: River In The Sky
Photo courtesy Turn Point Theatre
Ellie - Lindsey Cross
Jack - Howard Horner
“We are all just an assortment of stories.
Lies and truths all muddled by our own narrative.
Young couple, Jack and Ellie were trying to have a family.
Then after the sudden loss of their child, they both start to struggle coping with reality.
While one hides away in a dilapidated caravan, escaping to wondrous, childish adventures through their imagination, the other tries to forget the painful event and move on with their day to day life.
Unable to heal separately, they both come together to drink Earl Grey tea, argue over biscuits and tell each other magnificent stories, as bittersweet escapism from their mourning.
But as they tell these stories of battling massive, slender dark monsters with many claws, observing a beautiful winged creature with golden eyes and being tickled by fast beings that can't be seen underwater, reality drifts further from reach …
Will they spiral further into grief or can these stories somehow bring them back?
Turn Point Theatre is a brand new theatre company that is all about the possibility of change.
Though based in London, they are planning to take productions around theatres throughout the whole of the UK.
Peter Taylor's previous directing credits include WEIRD, Among Angels and critically acclaimed play Glitter Punch.
This production is also helping to raise money for 4Louis Charity, which supports anyone affected by miscarriages, stillbirth and the death of a child.
In an uncertain world, where change is being effected in many different directions sometimes at an astonishing rate, we're faced with one absolute certainty - we're all going to die at some point.
However, we don't expect death to occur in the first few years of someone's life.
But when that does happen, the loss and resulting grief can be unbearable, especially for parents of a child who has has died in early infancy.
Peter Taylor's play takes an unusual and unique stance to examine the immensely painful struggle of grieving parents after the death of their very young child.
As we're drip-fed information as the drama unfolds, we discover that we're in a time almost immediately after the death of Ellie and Jack's child.
To make matters worse we also find that, prior to giving birth to their son, they had suffered numerous miscarriages, thus augmenting the poignancy of their tragic plight.
Now most of us - particularly those who have had to face it - have a sense of what grieving entails and how it often plays out in people's daily lives.
Weeping, depression, withdrawing from normal activities and pastimes, inability to sleep or make decisions are just a few of the symptoms that spring to mind and that we might expect to see in those labouring under the dire spell of grief, especially the early stages.
But River In The Sky offers us a rather different angle on the mechanisms this ordinary couple employ in order to cope - they tell stories.
Howard Horner's Jack has been trying to get back into some kind of normality by resuming his employment, while Lindsey Cross's Ellie has escaped to a holiday home near the sea.
Following her down to the coast, Jack takes Ellie her favourite tea and biscuits - bourbons and custard creams - and is drawn-in to a means of escape.
Howard Horner as Jack (left) and Lindsey Cross as Ellie
Directing his own piece, Peter Taylor sensibly eschews adorning the Hope Theatre with much in the way of design ornamentation - even though this small venue can often be surprisingly transformed.
That leaves us with just some large cubes - almost like the bricks young children often play with - in the middle of the stage, providing some semblance of structure as well as alluding to the continued 'presence' of the child.
Both actors give strong, considered performances, and Peter Taylor's writing steers clear of any hint of sentimentality.
However, the initial differences the two parents display in dealing with their grieving, seemed to evaporate fairly quickly.
The initial set-up seemed to be leading us into substantial conflict between the characters, and that could have added a different layer of emotional tragedy to the piece, whilst still preserving the basic approach.
Though the storytelling sequences are powerfully and vividly described (both in terms of acting and writing) the quantity of them seemed a touch excessive, helping to nudge-out potentially explosive conflict that might have significantly boosted the drama.
For most people mourning a loved one, time is often the ultimate healer, so I'm not sure that we needed to see any kind of resolution here.
I had expected, though, to be almost emotionally overwhelmed by the issues this play explores, but the effect of the stories is almost to distract the audience as much as the parents.
But to be fair, Peter Taylor's theme is focused on how storytelling here is the vehicle to bring the characters together, rather than conflict between them or even the tragedy of untimely death.
And that approach is salient, valid and interesting.
Islington's aptly described 'little theatre with big ideas' is regularly home to thoughtful and provocative work that offers compelling insights into all manner of concepts.
River In The Sky is certainly one of those works, taking us into uncomfortable territory in an unusual way.
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ActDrop listing for Hope Theatre
Our show listing for River In The Sky
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