A THOUSAND STARS EXPLODE IN THE SKY
by David Eldridge, Robert Holman, Simon Stephens.
Lyric Theatre King Street Hammersmith W6 0QL To 5 June 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0871 221 1729.
Review: Carole Woddis 14 May.
Three writers produce a play strengthened by impeccable acting.
With the planet’s potential extinction a topical issue, A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky would seem to fall naturally into the play-for-today category. But this seamless, joint venture written by David Eldridge, Robert Holman and Simon Stephens speaks not so much to the environmental as the eternal issue of families.
Eldridge, Holman and Stephens are each, in their own way, known for their sensitive approach. Plays such as Eldridge’s Under the Blue Sky, Holman’s Making Noise Quietly and Stephens’ On the Shore of the Wide World, Harper Regan – even his frenetic, award-winning Punk Rock – have all explored this area with aching poignancy.
So it is here in a play which, set on the eve of the Earth’s imminent annihilation from cosmic string occurrence, centres on the Bentons, a farming family of five far-flung sons, one of whom, William (Nigel Cooke), is dying from cancer.
In a series of subtle, often monosyllabic scenes, we meet James, Jake, Philip (the youngest, still a schoolboy) and Edward. Philip apart, what the rest of the brothers seem to have in common is a certain emotional, almost autistic ineptitude. `He’s a useless mess’, says James’ sturdy but loving wife, Harriet.
Love and reconciliation are at the heart of A Thousand Stars. The underlying message, as we face extinction, is let’s try harder to be better human beings.
Given the emphasis on the sons, there is an unfortunate tendency towards mother-blaming, a concomitant lack of detail regarding the absent father and why Ann Mitchell’s powerful Margaret has become the granite-hard matriarch she appears. These reservations aside, it’s doubtful we’ll find a production this year that conveys its message with such exquisitely precise, painful acting.
Raw emotion hits in the most gentle of ways. There is a stunning scene where Harry McEntire’s perfectly-pitched Philip tells his mother he is gay whilst she helps him to dress. In another, Mitchell carefully, slowly and silently washes Cooke’s William from head to foot.
The play throbs with sly humour and compassion. Time shifts backwards and forwards. And despite the final wipe out, hope prevails. Beautiful.
William Benton: Nigel Cooke.
James Benton: Pearce Quigley.
Philip Benton: Harry McEntire.
Nicola Benton: Kirsty Bushell.
Jake Benton: Alan Williams.
Roy Benton: Rupert Simonian.
Harriet Benton: Tanya Moodie.
Margaret Benton: Ann Mitchell.
Edward Benton: Andrew Sheridan.
Dorrity Porter: Lisa Diveney.
Karl Steiner: Tom Mothersdale.
Jenny the Dog: Kerry/Lola/Saffy/Scarlett.
Director: Sean Holmes.
Designer: Jon Bausor.
Lighting: Adam Silverman.
Sound: Nick Manning.
Voice/Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Assistant director: Hannah Ashwell-Dickinson.