Leaves of Glass review at Soho Theatre London

Soho Theatre has, until now, specialised as much in new writers as in new writing. But a fresh chapter in this venue’s life is stirringly ushered in by Lisa Goldman, who inaugurates her regime as artistic director by staging the latest play by the long-established Philip Ridley, and fielding both a stellar cast and a stark, sharp production that give it a brooding and eventually bruising emotional weight.

The story of two brothers, Steven (now 27) and Barry (now 22), whose father died, aged 35, 12 years earlier, the legacies of abuse and alcoholism that have resulted are shockingly and disturbingly laid bare. Ridley’s play is not easy to watch, but it is constantly riveting.

That’s partly thanks to the edgy intensity that Ben Whishaw brings to the role of Steven, trying to rescue his unravelling kid brother’s life at the start of the play, but coming to lose the plot himself later on, when Trystan Gravelle’s Barry comes to his rescue, in turn.

Gravelle’s amazing performance as Barry also encompasses a sweep of emotion as he chronicles the damage that takes place within family life, which he memorably compares to the Kennedy assassination: “Each one of us is either sitting in the back of a car waiting for a bullet, or sitting at a window waiting to pull the trigger. Or loading a gun waiting to shoot the man who pulled the trigger. The trick is, while all this bloody madness is going on, to comment on how beautiful Dallas looks in the sunshine.”

The sun rarely shines on this play’s characters, but they are illuminated with a ferocity of feeling, with Ruth Sheen as the boys’ mother and Maxine Peake as Steven’s wife Debbie, both also full of silent suffering.

Production Information

Soho Theatre, London, May 3-26

Philip Ridley
Lisa Goldman
Soho Theatre
Ben Whishaw, Maxine Peake, Ruth Sheen, Trystan Gravelle
Running time
2 hours
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