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Crushed Shells and Mud review at the Southwark Playhouse – ‘intuitive cast’

Hannah Britland and Alexander Arnold in Crushed Shells and Mud at the Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Jack Sain Hannah Britland and Alexander Arnold in Crushed Shells and Mud at the Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Jack Sain
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Britain is in the grip of a devastating epidemic, but in a remote seaside town, young Derek idly dreams of falling in love. When the mysterious Lydia arrives he is smitten, but her deadly secret is soon revealed and there are violent forces that will stop at nothing to cast her out. Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting winner Ben Musgrave’s latest play sets a familiar coming of age story in a climate of fear and social collapse.

Musgrave skilfully allows the impact of the crisis to trickle into his story, while a trio of youngsters – Alex Lawther, Alexander Arnold and Hannah Britland – establish the dynamic of their relationship. It is only in the second act, when the nature of the plague is made clear, that the plot loses its way slightly, resolving itself with spiritual overtones and deus ex machina in the shape of Clare Almond’s gun toting Old Lady.

Russell Bolam’s direction complements the sense of isolation in Musgrave’s tale, but a stand-out performance from Lawther as Derek provides the innocence to counterpoint the brutality of the landscape. Lawther, perhaps best known for playing the young Turing in The Imitation Game, intuitively captures the awkwardness of first love that gradually matures to define the trajectory of the play.

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Interesting play that hints of apocalypse, but its strengths really lie in an intuitive cast