The Ash Boy

5
Chris Lee's new play at Theatre 503 directed by Gene David Kirk
By Gene - 23rd Mar 2006
An extraordinary new play which looks at people who live at, and beyond, the fringe of society. A mother (Eve) and her grown up son (Jack) live an isolated life in a lonely, squalid attic. Was Jack's brain damaged at birth or through the persistent beatings of his brutal, drunken dead father? Whichever way, his world is now one of stress and confusion surrounded daily by a society trying, in his perception, to force its way into his head and disolve his brain. He is totally dependent on his mother, not as a provider but as an anchor in his world, something stable to look out for and look after, even though they fight. The trouble is, Eve has given up and wants nothing more than to join her dead husband. Into this clockwork crazy world comes Benny - a middle-aged Scottish drunk of no fixed abode, no job and no prospects; except the ability to insinuate himself into other people's lives in order to get a roof over his head. This is definitely a play of two halves. the first is split into many short scenes showing us these people, their lives and their relationships - a times seeming too full of words and stop-start changes it leaves you feeling on edge. The second, however, hits you like an emotional wrecking ball; moments of calm as it swings then shattering as it hits home. This is powerful writing which switches easily between foul swearing and almost poetic flights of fancy.

So how does the production cope with this? The designer (Alice Walkling) has constrained the stage to a small triangle. This allows the production to explore and expose the claustrophobia arising from three people sharing a small space, at the same time, the long wall also allows great space to be placed between the chartacters and moments of true isolation to develop. The theatre's limitation of a single entrance pretty well on the acting area is mostly handled well but perhaps leave more light so that the actors could travel faster/safer? The pace is handled beautifully, keeping the text moving and allowing each character time to be developed; there are a number of long speeches and it was important that we were able to absorb these without them being allowed to drag - they were spot on.

The acting was excellent. Gabrielle Hamilton (Eve) has a stillness and lightness of speech that was used to great effect, particularly as her mood swithced between remembering better days, vitriolic hatred and motherly love. Philip Brodie's Jack was excellently sustained throughout, a difficult and unforgiving character to represent but one carried off with great conviction. Stuart Muirs' Benny is the most earthy of the three and his world-weary nature is a foil to the others - his playing left us guessing about the characters real role and intent to the end and was never less than completely believable.

In summary, Gene David Kirk has taken a difficult, but exciting, piece of new writing and has, by applying a gentle but focussed hand, made it whole.


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