Friday, February 26, 2016

Eclipse - review - People's Theatre

People's Theatre
Feb 25th 2016

National Theatre Connections - a national festival which aims to connect the best new writing for theatre with young actors. Now in it's 21st year NT Connections has gone to its back catalogue and chosen 12 plays to be performed again. Eclipse, the play chosen by the People's Youth Theatre, was written by Simon Armitage back in 1996, and is inspired by the real life disappearance of a young girl, and the solar eclipse which lured people in their droves to Cornwall. These two separate and unconnected events are combined in Armitage's play as a vehicle to explore themes of change and relationships within a group.

The plot is simple - a group of friends meet for the solar eclipse, a stranger joins them and then subsequently disappears at the exact moment the eclipse takes place. The friends are interviewed by the police as part of the investigation. The play however is not simple. It is not told as a linear story with a traditional start, middle and end. It is told in flashbacks from the day interspersed with the police interviews. The audience however only hears the young person's side of the interview - never the police questions. It provides the audience with information which may or may not be what actually happened on the day. As the play starts the group of friends appear to be colluding to get their stories straight. This could be nothing more than the natural uncertainty of youth, seeking support and reassurance from their peers, or it may be more sinister. Do they know more than they are telling?

Photos by Paula Smart
Each of the characters portrayed are individuals in themselves and all very different, and yet there is a clear bond within the group. Klondike (Russ Muscroft) is the leader - they turn to him for direction. Tulip (Anna Chidlow) is self reliant, aggressive, and yet still looks to Klondyke for affirmation. Polly and Jane, (Polly Chedgzoy and Aphra Holland Bonnett) the twins, are fused together in their love of fashion, desperate to be accepted for themselves but hiding behind a shared style. Midnight, (Lewis Gammer) is blind and finds comfort in religion, and clings to the friendships despite the sometimes cruel tricks played on him. Finally  Glue Boy (Tom Hall), part of the group, yet more than any, separate from it. He lives in his own world, seeing everything differently in his glue induced high.  Their differences are acknowledged and accepted. They are all strong within the group. Lucy Lime (Rheanne Boothroyd) is different. She arrives and appears to be accepted but there is suspicion and jealousy. She is too different, they don't seem to understand her and she undermines their confidence - with themselves and with each other. her difference is symbolised by the appearance of two additional voices for Lucy - The Limettes (Abi Featherstone and Rhian Usher) who add to the mystery and other-worldliness of Lucy's character.

This play is a strange mix of the mystical and the real. it is difficult to know what is real, and what is imagined. What does come across is the sense that these young people are hiding something - whether that be the truth about what happened to Lucy Lime, or their own demons and secrets, who knows?  It's quite a challenge for the audience. It must have been a daunting one for the young actors involved as they set out to present this play. They do so brilliantly.

I confess I left the theatre amazed and somewhat bemused. I was not at all sure what to make of the play yet I was quite sure I had just seen a young cast perform something enigmatic and difficult with a huge amount of skill and maturity. For the first time in a long while, I came home and looked up a play to find out what had already been said on the subject. And I find that it is all about the uncertainty, the not knowing, or the maybe knowing. Change affects everyone in different ways, reality is perceived by everyone in different ways. Maybe Lucy Lime existed and something terrible happened to her, or maybe none of it was real after all.

Go see this startling production, and decide for yourselves.

Eclipse plays until 27th Feb in the Studio Upstairs.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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