Sometimes it takes time for tears to come out. They can sit cooped up inside your throat for a while, they might come out here and there, and then a single moment might unleash the waterworks. But John Livesey’s production doesn’t give you that moment. It’s a show that keeps the throat tight and refuses to let go. Even now, as I write this review, the tears and the lump in my throat are teetering.
Fran Amewudah-Rivers’ emotional understanding of different people – men, women, old and young – is quite frankly incredible. She switches from a blasé teenage boy to a crying, anxious mother in one smooth swoop. As a performer, she has a dynamic simplicity, and commands the stage with a flawless energy that is consistent across a whole hour. Your gaze never leaves her subtle eye movements and tiny gestures that speak volumes. Particularly as the mother, her mannerisms build up in what appears a very realistic and sensitive portrayal. For each character her voice conveyed such an understanding of different stages of life, such a connection with different hopes and fears, and such a sense of belonging to different social circles, that I really felt attached to each member of the family. Amewudah-Rivers’ performance is emotionally wise, energetically charged, and skilfully varied. She is, quite simply, astonishing. While the length and intensity of the final section of the play is perhaps too much, this is completely overshadowed by how powerfully it is performed.
As for the design, the minimal set is tastefully done, and the gaps between the photos give a nice ambience that cross homeliness with emptiness. In general, Livesey’s direction is accomplished in its use of space, with the actor creating a clear sense of different locations as she switches between characters. This is done so well in the first half that the abrupt lighting changes and the use of the microphone in the second half almost detract from the characterisation. Still, Livesey’s production is a triumph of student theatre, as well as one of the most exciting, engaging and devastating plays I have ever seen.