first night

The River

Andrew Shires reviews Lion Theatre Company's latest offering.

 Having only ever seen one Jez Butterworth play before, (Fortnight Theatre’s remarkable production of ‘Parlour Song’ only two weeks ago) I had very little idea what to expect from LTC’s latest offering. I am delighted to say that their production of The River is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time, thanks to some incredible performances and masterful control by Director Tom Wills and AD Anna Haines.

The River tells the story of The Man, played by Jack Whitmore, and The Woman, by Olivia Ballantine-Smith. The pair reside in a cabin near the eponymous river, and spend their days fishing. It is a banal and yet enthralling premise, especially with the inclusion of Yasmin Jones’ ‘Other Woman.’ To say too much would be to spoil the story, although there are recurring ideas of love, loss and dwelling too much on the past present throughout the piece, culminating in a brilliantly wicked ending.

Whitmore gives an extremely impressive performance as The Man, likeable and entertaining, with a subtle undercurrent of sadness disturbingly present throughout. In some of his lengthier monologues, his energy seemed to dip , though this could have been first night nerves. However in his scenes with the women he shone, showing the audience how much he cared about them and displaying excellent comic timing at moments. Yasmin Jones was also commendable as The Other Woman, capturing the flirtatious nature and sense of fun in the part, whilst also being suitable chilling near the play’s climax.

For me however it was Ballantine-Smith who gave the strongest performance of the night. Her portrayal of The Woman was so effortless and natural she was an utter joy to watch, at times wickedly funny, but also incredibly moving. Her sense of betrayal at the end of the play was truly heartbreaking. Wills and Haines should be congratulated on their direction, as even during relatively static sequences, the characters all felt truly alive throughout. The extended scene where The Man prepares the sea trout in silence was a brave decision, as it could have sapped the play of all energy, and yet it brought a sense of realism to the piece that only heightened what was to come. Kudos to producers Alex Marshall and Holly Charlotte-Brown on the fish, as well as the rest of the impressively authentic looking set and fishing outfit. It was small details like these that made the play feel so real.

The tech provided by Joe Kelen was relatively simple, but effective. The sunset at the beginning of the play would have benefitted from a slightly larger window, but all in all created a nice effect, and the use of music throughout was at times both haunting and enjoyable, helping to add energy to the piece. Overall this was an incredibly impressive first night, and all involved should be very pleased with themselves. I highly recommend that you go and see this play, as LTC have created something really quite special that will stay with you long after the final bow. 

17 March 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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