words by Sylvia Lancaster poetry by Simon Armitage
Royal Exchange (Studio) St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 8 March.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Thu 2.30pm Sat 3.30pm.
Post-Show Discussion: 6 March 7.30pm.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
www.royalexchange.co.uk/blackroses (performances sold out).
17 March 7.30pm Ashton-On-Mersey School Cecil Ave, Sale, Cheshire East M33 5BP.
18 March 7.30pm Broadoak School Warburton Lane Partington Manchester M31 4BU.
TICKETS for 17, 18 March: 0161 833 9833.
thenRoyal Festival Hall (Blue Room) Belvedere Road London SE1 8XX 24-28 March 2014.
7pm Fri 7pm & 9pm Mat Wed 2pm. (performances sold out).
TICKETS: 0844 875 0073
Runs 45min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 February.
Even a pin might drop with respectful silence in a performance that so intensely grips its audience.
She wasn’t Black, Asian or gay. So what were the insignia that led to young Sophie Lancaster being killed one August evening in 2007 while walking with her boyfriend in Stubbeylee Park, Bacup?
Sophie and Rob were Goths. Not Vandals, Huns or even Visigoths, but members of a youth trend that favours dark colours and hefty designs. The strange, and in this case terrible, irony being that the liking for clothes and other adornments of a dark and hefty nature went, as with others of their unofficial tribe, with some of the sweetest natures human youth has on offer.
Sophie wasn’t the first target of the five young male attackers; Rob was. But she was there, she was trying to hold him protectively – and as one of the attackers apparently realised, she was a witness.
Not when they’d finished with her she wasn’t. Instead of studying for an English degree, she lived the last 13 days of her life in intensive care. Simon Armitage, a poet whose work has several times veered into theatre, gives her mind a detached self-consciousness.
Originally for radio, his script is finely performed in Sarah Frankcom and Susan Roberts’ Royal Exchange production by Rachel Austin, who moves around the room where her mother sits. Austin’s movement has a graceful slowness, her speech the awareness of what is happening to her expressed with the calm of an observer as Sophie’s systems shut down. The concern is never absent, but never forced; there’s plenty of space for each audience member’s feelings in response.
It’s deeply affecting, neither expressing nor soliciting emotion, yet the human reaction is inevitable as we hear a young woman effectively detailing her own slow death. If anything, even more remarkable is Julie Hesmondhalgh as Sophie’s mother, recalling events and talking about her daughter. It’s a performance of unmannered realism that combines great dignity and utter authenticity, both served by the performer’s controlled intensity.
Finally, the actors leave the stage, not returning for applause they deserve but which is ultimately a tribute to the people they have portrayed. Till then, the concentration is complete.
Sophie Lancaster: Rachel Austin.
Sylvia Lancaster: Julie Hesmondhalgh.
Directors: Sarah Frankcom, Susan Roberts.
Designer: Amanda Stoodley.
Lighting: Kay Haynes.
Sound: Peter Rice.