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Leaves of Glass

Leaves of Glass

“That’s the way it works in this family. Believe what you wanna believe. Twist this. Ignore the other. That’s how we survive.”

Lidless Theatre and Zoe Weldon in association with Park Theatre and Theatre Deli present the first major UK revival of Philip Ridley‘s Leaves of Glass.

East London. 2023.
Steven has always tried to be a good person. He works hard. He looks after his family. But, suddenly, everyone starts accusing him of things. His wife accuses him of being unfaithful. His mother accuses him of being coercive. And his brother, Barry, accuses him of…what exactly?  

Barry won’t say. Or can’t. Or perhaps…Steven hasn’t done anything at all.  

Following its critically acclaimed run at Soho Theatre premiere in 2007, Philip Ridley’s four-hander is a gripping narrative of memory, manipulation, and power – now regarded as a modern classic – returns for the first time in 16 years with a new production by longtime collaborators, Lidless Theatre. 

Watch our "In Conversation with director MAX HARRISON discussing Leaves of Glass at Hope Mill Theatre" video

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Leaves of Glass ON TOUR

Our review on Leaves of Glass

Leaves of Glass - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Monday 3rd July 2023 by Karen Ryder

Our Rating

Sometimes, very rarely, you witness something that transcends words, lives in its own universe, and has no sense of comparison to anything that went before or is likely to come after.  It becomes your story to try and relay because you were the one that observed it.  No one else saw what you saw.  It was intimately revealed to you, and to you alone.  Leaves Of Glass at Hope Mill Theatre has pulled me into this mystical web of confusion, for I now have the challenge of unravelling the very real sensation that I was watching four actual people, and not four actors perform a play.  Their truths, their lies, their realities, their distorted and fractured manifestations were presented with such authenticity that it became real.  And I was eavesdropping on their intensely private family secrets. 


Photo Credit - Mark Senior

Steven has the upper hand with the audience from the off because he is the first person we meet and so it is his truth that guides us.  He is presentable, calm, has his own graffiti cleaning business, he is successful and in control.  He opens up just enough to allow us insight of his troubled heart regarding his late father, but soon has to swallow his own grief to deal with his younger brother Barry, whose own answer to bereavement presents itself in a state of deep drug and alcohol fuelled intoxication.  Steven hasn’t had the luxury of grief as he had to look after his troubled brother.  Barry therefore offers a polar opposite response to Steven, for he is wired, violent, and unpredictable with an air of danger about him.   We then meet Debbie, Steven’s wife, and his mum Liz as they jovially join forces to wind him up through a sense of mutual love.  Through naturalistic family conversation that overlaps, goes off at tangents, and has at least three entirely different topics intertwined into a seamless exchange that doesn’t miss a beat, the observational humour here sets the scene for many a family home across the world.

Photo Credit - Mark Senior

From Debbie’s pregnancy to the barking dog next door, from double glazing to war, and from pulling teeth out, to holidays and who takes sugar in their tea!  Barry is very much painted as the black sheep of the family, dealing with the unspoken loss of their father in all the darkest ways.  But hold onto your hats for one heck of a rollercoaster ride, for perception is a strange thing.  Our minds can be manipulated. One person’s memory is another person’s torture, and trusting instinctual first impressions can take you to the point of no return.  You will think you know where the story is going.  You will be proved wrong time and time again.  You will think you know these characters.  You will learn not to trust this.  You will think you know who is telling the truth.  You will never truly know, because even when you leave the theatre and discuss it with people around you, you will quickly learn that the story they have just watched has been filtered in an entirely different way to the same story you have just watched, leaving you believing different things and interpreting individually unique truths.  In a family where secrets thrive on secrets and where mental health is hushed up as a “fluey bug type thing,” how long before the cracks start to show and the glass shatters?  As I said, Leaves Of Glass will become YOUR story, because you are the only one who will see it in the exact way that you do.  It is a mind-blowing concept and one that has left me feeling brilliantly dazed and confused.

Photo Credit - Mark Senior

Set in the round, you are instantly, almost voyeuristically placed in whichever room the characters are in, strengthening the sense of investment you have in the truth and the outcome.  With just a staple of four benches as the set, and additional purposeful props smoothly brought in when needed for a location change, the starkness deliberately pulls your focus to the phenomenal acting and storytelling.  Everything that is there is there for a reason and not simply to dress the set, whether it be a hanging lamp, a piece of art, a remote control, or a baby monitor.  The thought that has gone into minute detail is breath taking, and this extends to every creative element.  Lighting will mess with your mind, taking you from a plunging darkness to feeling almost naked and vulnerable in the sudden and glaring strip lights.  A particularly gut-wrenching scene is played out via candlelight, offering up yet another story telling filter where just like the characters, you are forced to listen, because you don’t have easily accessible visual clues.  Costumes are designed to lead us into snap judgements.  Barry first appears with impeccable detail, chunks of vomit on his top, and later with holes in his t-shirt and jeans with an unwashed grime in them.  Even the make up on his wrists shows of his struggle with self-harming.  In contrast, Steven wears a crisp white shirt, expensive and trendy trousers, smooth, tailored, immaculate, with not a hair out of place.  We think we have seen the truth based solely on their appearances before we have even bothered to listen.

This is a smart creative team (Kit Hinchcliffe – set and costume, Alex Lewer – lighting, Sam Glossop – sound) who understand how our minds can sadly work.  Sounds are filtered in with such discretion that whilst you may notice the barking dog or the telephone ring, you may be forgiven for feeling rather than hearing the building hum of tension, the power of silence, and the gloomy external weather.

Photo Credit - Mark Senior

Director Max Harrison has created an exemplary piece of theatre that encourages you to ask more questions than it answers.  His clear approach of collaborating with cast and creatives in an open and malleable manner ensures the feeling of real life rather than a staged production.  These characters are real.  They are in the moment, they are alive, they are living breathing spontaneous beings that burst open that fourth wall leaving nothing but dust in its wake and the mind mangling belief that you have actually stumbled into someone’s reality and not the theatre.  The actors will make eye contact with you, and hold it, because they are telling you their truth, and they need you to believe them.  No one else.  Them.  I set out tonight to watch a staged play in the theatre, but I didn’t see one, and I mean that as a raw and honest compliment.  Instead, I saw four real people trying to navigate their way through trauma and the alternate paths it has taken them down.  Never have performances been so convincing. 

Photo Credit - Mark Senior

Ned Costello
(The Clothes They Stood Up In, Britannicus, Capture 2) doesn’t leave the acting space as Steven and is captivating from beginning to end.  He expertly unravels his seemingly perfect life into a split and fraying turmoil, before desperately trying to gather it all back up and supress the darkness of the truth he is hiding from himself.  There is something there, dangerously bubbling away beneath the calm waters, and each twist and turn is delved into with such a self-assured sanity that you don’t want to believe what you hear.  Costello invades your mind and your emotions leaving you wrung out, confused and doubting your own gatekeepers of the truth.  Joseph Potter (Salt Water Moon, The Poltergeist, Romeo & Juliet) almost takes the reverse journey as Barry, starting with nothing but a vomit bucket and a hyperactive, unstoppable, manic energy that pings off immediate untrustworthy vibes in your mind.  His vivid and palpable agitation places you on edge and he will hold you in the palm of his hand in an equal, yet entirely different way.  Such is his believability that his capable turnaround and obvious passion and talent for art, catches you out.  But Potter is nothing less than captivating, exhilarating, and heartbreaking when he finally reveals his truth in the cellar with Steven.  You will see a lost boy, a broken man, and a pleading brother in each and every word spoken.

Photo Credit - Mark Senior

It is remarkable.  Kacey Ainsworth (Eastenders, Grantchester, Calander Girls) wows us with her brash, thick cockney accent and unique phrases as Liz.  Funny, frustrated, and frightened, her truth is not told with the words she says, but in every word that she doesn’t say, won’t say, and can’t say.  What a masterclass.  Her obviously altered recollection of the truth at the end of the story regarding Barry’s artwork highlights to us all how we can take liberties with the truth, not in order to lie, but in order to be able to live.  Again, this is delivered with such skill that the pleading heart of a broken mother to please accept her false memories as facts is heard far louder than the words she speaks.  Katie Buchholz (understudy in Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, The Seagull, Mary Poppins) completes this stellar cast with her exceptional performance as Debbie.  As the only member of the family we meet who is not a blood relative and so hasn’t experienced the past with the others, we gain yet another perspective.  As audience members, we are privy to more of their history than possibly she is, but she knows something is wrong and so is left to draw her own conclusions, which in all honesty don’t even touch the sides of the family’s pandora’s box.  Buchholz brings a bubbly and larger than life warmth to the story, yet it is grounded in a solid and deeply complex character of her own, ensuring that Debbie isn’t superfluous or trivial against the others.  Far from it, instead we gain an immaculate character that guides us through the impact and ripple effects of trauma.  The timing of her overlapping dialogue delivery is so truthful and natural that it raised a few giggles as we each recognised ourselves or a loved one. 

Photo Credit - Mark Senior

This sensational cast deliver Philip Ridley’s outstanding play with a frank and fabulous finesse.  It will make you stop and think.  It will challenge your own perceptions on memory, and it will have you gasping for breath as you try to keep up with the plentiful twists and turns, that believe me, you will not see coming.  When the truth of our memories is so open to debate, it opens up a black hole of possible endings, inscrutable outcomes, and an intangible definitive.  My memory of tonight’s production of Leaves Of Glass may be entirely different to someone else’s, but I know that my truth will remember it as one of the most thought-provoking and believable shows I have ever seen. 


Leaves of Glass is on at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 8th July.



Photo Credit - Mark Senior

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