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Review: Leaves of Glass at Hope Mill Theatre is ‘totally gripping from start to finish’

Leaves of Glass, the first major UK revival of Philip Ridley's powerful play, has arrived at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester.

This gripping narrative, directed by Max Harrison, delves into the complexities of memory, manipulation, and power, presenting a thought-provoking exploration of truth and perception that resonates with audiences long after the final curtain falls.

Set in East London in 2023, the story revolves around Steven, a man who ‘has always strived to be a good person’.

Suddenly, his life is turned upside down as accusations fly from all directions.

His wife, Liz, accuses him of infidelity, his mother accuses him of being coercive, and his brother, Barry, accuses him of something yet to be disclosed.

As the play unfolds, we are left questioning whether Steven is innocent or guilty and whether the truth lies in the eye of the beholder.

In the Foreword of the play, director Max Harrison writes: “The play is about memory. How we use – manipulate – a particular narrative of the past to shape the story of our lives.

“Currently, we seem to be surrounded by people doing exactly that.

“Think Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, Prince William and Prince Harry. All with totally different interpretations of what has happened. All are convinced their truth is the only truth.

“And totally willing to go down in flames to prove it.”

And therein lies the play’s power and draw, the uncertainty of all recollections, the untrustworthiness of the protagonists, whose truth do we believe?

Ned Costello delivers a remarkable performance as Steven, capturing the character’s desperation and confusion with authenticity and emotional depth.

Costello skillfully portrays Steven’s inner turmoil as he grapples with the mounting accusations, showcasing his range as an actor and ensuring the audience remains invested in his journey.

This is without a doubt, a powerhouse performance from Ned Costello whose intriguing portrayal of Steven paces the narrative forward, imbued with paranoia, driving the slow ratchet of tension that builds to a tumultuous conclusion.

Joseph Potter brings a mysterious and enigmatic quality to the role of Barry, Steven’s brother.

Potter’s portrayal is both captivating and unsettling, leaving the audience on edge as they try to decipher the truth behind Barry’s accusations.

His nuanced performance adds an intriguing layer to the production, keeping the audience guessing until the very end.

Kacey Ainsworth shines as Liz, Steven’s mum, delivers a powerful and emotionally charged performance.

Ainsworth expertly portrays Liz’s anger, hurt, and vulnerability, effectively conveying the complex dynamics within their relationship.

Her chemistry with Costello is palpable, bringing an authenticity to their scenes together that further enhances the denouement of the story.

Katie Buchholz delivers a compelling performance as Debbie, Steven’s wife, who is a pivotal character who adds another layer of mystery to the narrative.

Buchholz skillfully embodies Debbie’s inner conflict, drawing the audience into her world and contributing to the play’s atmosphere of uncertainty.

Her interactions with the other characters are infused with tension and intrigue, adding depth to the overall production.

Under Max Harrison’s direction, the production successfully captures the intensity and suspense of Ridley’s script.

The pacing is taut, ensuring the tension builds steadily throughout the play, keeping the audience engaged and eager to uncover the truth.

The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre enhances the immersive experience, allowing the audience to feel intimately connected to the characters and their struggles.

In many respects, it’s the perfect venue for this style of play.

Kit Hinchliffe’s intricate set design effectively reflects the fragmented nature of the story, with shattered glass motifs serving as a visual metaphor for shattered perceptions and fractured relationships.

Sam Glossop’s sound design and Alex Lewer’s lighting design work in harmony to create an atmospheric backdrop that heightens the emotional impact of each scene.

The sound and lighting that closes each scene ramp up the claustrophobia and paranoia, the suspicions of each of the characters and create a brilliant tension that keeps you hooked.

Not many plays can get away with a 145-minute show with no break, but these mini stops and starts create a tension that is irresistible.

The combined efforts of the creative team contribute to the overall success of the production, enhancing the storytelling and creating a captivating theatrical experience.

Leaves of Glass is a play that demands introspection and encourages the audience to question their own beliefs and perceptions.

Ridley’s script is thought-provoking and haunting, exploring themes of memory, manipulation, and the subjectivity of truth.

Through its gripping narrative and exceptional performances, this revival at Hope Mill Theatre captivates audiences, leaving them with a lingering sense of unease and a renewed appreciation for the power of storytelling.

This is a play you will not be disappointed by. It’s absolutely superb.

Leaves of Glass is on at Hope Mill Theatre from 3rd July 20238th July 2023. 

You can get your tickets here.

Run time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

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