Theatre Review - Leaves of Glass

Set in contemporary East London, Philip Ridley’s searing domestic drama explores a dysfunctional family.

Steven (Ned Costello) owns a successful cleaning business. He works hard and looks out for his younger brother Barry (Joseph Potter), a struggling artist with a drink problem. But what is Barry running from and is Stephen as considerate as he likes to appear?

We know Ridley is going to tackle difficult emotional territory in Steven's opening monologue when he tells us that Barry was their father’s preferred son. But ‘I’m Mum’s favourite, so it sort of balances out.’ On the surface, it’s a throwaway comment but this perception defines and divides them.

At the start of this carefully plotted play, Steven has the upper hand. Work is profitable and his wife Debbie (Katie Buchholz) is pregnant. Increasingly fragile as he fights his inner demons, Barry accepts work with him as a ‘graffiti blaster’.

We learn that their dad died young and, twelve years later, Barry still feels the loss. The brothers’ mother Liz (Kacey Ainsworth) is clearly in denial about their past and the emotional fallout of her husband’s death, while the brothers attempt to keep a lid on their simmering tensions.

At the heart of their troubled relationship is a horrifying secret. Costello hides Steven’s emotions behind a brilliantly expressionless veneer. When Barry starts to finds his feet, Steven reveals another side – manipulating memories and truth with devastating consequences.

Leaves of Glass is psychologically complex and rich in metaphor. The central motif, an ornamental glass tree, is particularly apt. Ridley continuously shifts the power dynamics and subverts our expectations. He is well served by Max Harrison’s taut production and compelling performances which keep us guessing until the end.

Originally published by Islington Tribune

Until June 3