CRUSHED SHELLS AND MUD
by Ben Musgrave.
Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 24 October 2015.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 October.
A finely-held tension finally toppled by vagueness.
I met a woman as I went along Newington Causeway towards Southwark Playhouse, who offered to walk with, and pray for, me. She assured me I would feel better for it from tomorrow on. I don’t think she had anything to do with this first play by Ben Musgrave, but it too has people who provide quasi-religious support for people like young Lydia.
She seems a picture of health as she happens on teenage Derek at the abandoned caravan he’s made his own, with its sea view. Alex Lawther’s Derek is a detailed portrayal of a teenager unmatured by having friends; nervous in his rapid, semi-controlled hand movements, vulnerable in his frank facial expressions, always wanting to impress the truth of what his voice says, always doing his best to please.
He’s clearly happy young Lydia walks his way to the sea. For all her smiling friendliness, Hannah Britland’s manner reveals moments of calculation, a self-awareness unknown to Alex, suggesting she’s hiding something. When Vincent comes along, tormenting Alex because he knows no better way to be friends, Lydia is fascinated despite herself.
Trust is important to Alex, but he hasn’t the strength to keep secret what he discovers, especially when Vince is drawn under the influence of Peter, an adult intent on a mission to whip-up hatred against carriers of a mysterious, flesh-scarring disease. HIV/AIDS and the hysteria around its early days it might be, only the setting is later.
If there’s a sense of a story out of time here, both Musgrave’s script and exemplary acting in Russell Bolam’s finely-pitched production maintain tension and conviction (Britland has some northern-sounding vowels for an action set south or east of London, but Lydia’s origins are somewhat hazy).
Yet Musgrave moves on to shifting sands after the interval when he brings in the counter-force of benevolence, resorting to ill-defined, semi-mystical events, and narrative in-fill. It’s not helped when the dea ex machine, a grey-haired lady in a Morris Traveller – perhaps signifying traditional tolerance – makes little impact in script or performance, the nature of the escape she offers sinister in its vagueness.
Derek: Alex Lawther.
Lydia: Hannah Britland.
Vince: Alexander Arnold.
Peter: Simon Lenagan.
Sarah: Laura Howard.
Old Lady: Clare Almond.
Director: Russell Bolam.
Designer: Ellan Parry.
Lighting: Richard Godin.
Sound: Richard Hammarton.
Assistant director: Sam Greenwood.
Assistant designer: Anna Driftmier.