River in the Sky (Hope Theatre)

Posted: August 12, 2019 in Theatre

Writer and director: Peter Taylor

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Peter Taylor’s riveting 70-minute one-act play, River in the Sky, was seen briefly at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in London just a few months ago. Its quick return for a longer run here is richly deserved.

Taylor explores how a couple, both devastated by the loss of their child, find ways to come to terms with their grief by creating worlds of wild fantasy. We first meet Ellie (Lindsey Cross) and Jack (Howard Horner) when they are planning the size of their family, settling on the number one. We then learn that, after an earlier miscarriage, their one child has died in infancy. Immediately after the funeral, Ellie disappears to a dilapidated caravan on a rugged coast, seeing no one, apart from visits by Jack to bring her supplies of Earl Grey tea and custard creams.

We know that Ellie is a writer, but, otherwise, Taylor gives us only scant back stories for the couple, leaving it to his capable actors to flesh out the characters. There is little to distract from the assured writing and the acting in Taylor’s in-the-round staging and deliberately understated performances from Cross and Horner convey the depth of individual and joint suffering. Ellie and Jack find their own way of coping, embarking on flights of Game of Thrones style fantasy to divert their minds from reality and give themselves time to heal. 

Ferocious monsters, flying cars, roaring winds and turbulent seas feature in the stories which Ellie and Jack relate to themselves, each other and their dead child. They become the heroes, saving their limbs from the jaws of hungry carnivores and slaying dragons, as they act out their brave deeds. The tales feel less like metaphors for the cruelty of real life than examples of the wild fantasy worlds in which we all may seek refuge when life becomes too hard to bear.

The play has progression, taking the couple on a journey from deep depression, alienation and attribution of blame to a common understanding which shines a beacon of hope. The journey is marked out by subtle changes in writing style and performances which suggest the potency of fantasy as a cathartic force. The couple’s method of dealing with grief may not necessarily find approval from psychologists, but we feel that it gives them the strength to move on.

Performance date: 8 August 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

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