RoomOne Productions is a young Bristol-based theatre company which formed in 2008 through the UWE Drama Society. Leaves of Glass is only the company’s third show but you’d be forgiven for thinking they were old hands, such is the accomplished, rich and polished nature of this production.
At the outset of Philip Ridley’s play we are presented with a typically dysfunctional modern family; Steven the oldest son is insular and stubborn, Barry the younger brother is a troubled alcoholic, Liz their mother is slowly deteriorating with age and Debbie, Steven’s ditzy girlfriend, is newly pregnant. The father is the missing piece here and his death over a decade ago is a sobering fact the family have tried to bury over the years but one which none of them have ever really come to terms with.
As the pressure of holding a fractured family together mounts on Steven combined with suddenly becoming a parent with a woman he may not love, deep and dark feelings begin to bubble to the surface and long suppressed truths refuse to be ignored. As this production plays out, these fragile character relationships come tumbling down in a powerful and poignant piece of writing.
It’s a brutal and intense but completely enthralling exploration of the contemporary British family. The most striking and beautifully realised aspect of this production has to be Tessa Battisti’s set design. A wide white floor houses all the show’s minimal props and furniture but refusing to be ignored is a huge black and grey stain of paint scorched across the floor, elegantly representing the dark, brutal blemish in this family’s history that cannot be washed out. The really inspired aspect of the design though is a large glass drinks cabinet full of delicate ornamental crystal tumblers and trinkets that glitters at the back of the stage throughout, reflecting the fragility of the family’s relationships. Just a small nudge would bring the entire cabinet crashing down and its delicate presence gives the audience a genuine sense of unease while watching the drama unfold.
Matching Battisti’s design is the sensitive and beautiful direction from Sian Henderson and Max Boon as well as several excellent performances, particularly from the shows two leads. Chris Levens is a bundle of furious energy as Barry, capable of flying off the handle one second and weeping with fear and confusion the next but you can really see the honesty and pain behind his eyes as Levens brings a stunning sense of humanity to the role. It is Barry’s growing inner strength and maturing arch during the show that is particularly satisfying however, a tricky progression that is handled superbly well.
Michael Fox is equally impressive as the older and supposedly wiser brother, Steven. Clad in a business suit in the open scenes, you can see the uneasiness with which he inhabits this brittle life as he tries to fill the void left by his father and he only ever looks truly relaxed and happy during his childhood flashback monologues. His fall from grace through paranoia, guilt and fear to the heartfelt emotional wreck we see in the final scene is again handled with genuine deftness and staggering beauty.
It not quite a flawless production; there was definitely a lull at the beginning of the second half as the show struggled to get across the leap forward in time to the audience and the long relentless blackout scene changes were an unwelcome distraction. It’s certainly too long at nearly two and a half hours, but for a fledgling theatre company this is an incredibly encouraging production, and it will be very exciting to see what RoomOne Productions turns its attention to next.