views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Deep Space
The Old Red Lion Theatre
22nd February 2013


Caitlin (Lila Whelan), Liam (Oliver Yello) and Sam (Abbiegale Duncan)

Photography supplied by Sprocket Theatre

Following a tragic accident, Caitlin (Lila Whelan) visits Sam (Abbiegale Duncan) to help them both understand what exactly happened that fateful night. As far as synopses go, this is as short as they get, but to say much more would probably ruin your enjoyment of the play.

Its writer, also Whelan, has chosen to drip feed information to her audience, refusing to play her hand until the last possible moment. Some of the reveals do feel a little signposted, but there are plenty of twists that you won't see coming. The best way to describe The Deep Space is as a very dark mystery - as much as you don't want to believe the worst, you find your mind racing to figure out the conclusion before Whelan finally fits all the horrifying pieces together for you.

We meet Sam and Caitlin in a room - where exactly it is, what this meeting signifies, who the two women are to each other - none of this is immediately clear. By the end of the first half, most of these questions are answered, but you still wonder how the bits of information you have worked out relate to each other. The pair have the emotional range to carry off the mystery - Whelan letting Caitlin's cold exterior crack at crucial moments to uncover layers of feeling and Duncan slowly coming out of her shell in the present, meshing perfectly with the brash but vulnerable character in flashbacks. The pair run the full gamut of emotions superbly.

Floating shelves with key objects are surrounded by lights, which are illuminated each time Sam recalls a suppressed memory and we see a flashback take place on stage. It's a divisive bit of staging, but one that grows more powerful as the play progresses and Carrie-style redness consumes the stage signifying womanhood yet also the hellish truth.

The use of sound is subtle, and enhances each vignette. The set design gives director Claude Girardi and fight director Lyndall Grant plenty of room to work with, but it does feel distracting at times. Once the first object is lit up, you realise the others will follow and you try to identify each clue ahead of its time, at points taking you out of the moment. But it is all justified, with lighting designer Scott Pryce-Jones's timing spot on.

Caitlin (Lila Whelan), Liam (Oliver Yellop), Sam (Abbiegale Duncan) and Kay (Sarah Fraser)

Photography supplied by Sprocket Theatre

Sarah Fraser and Oliver Yellop ably support Whelen and Duncan by playing two characters each. Fraser injects some humour into what is an emotionally challenging play, as does Yellop, but in playing Liam he has perhaps a more complex task to pull off.

Together, all four actors deliver very strong performances, a credit to their alma mater, the Central School of Speech and Drama. They're all reasonably new to this game, with Whelan having completed her MA at the end of 2012 and The Deep Space being her first play under the Sprocket Theatre banner. You wouldn't know it, though, none of them seem wet behind the ears.

If it seems like our details are thin on the ground, sorry. There's very little to say without ruining this tragedy, at times a modern take on Euripides. If you hadn't guessed, the play tackles some very difficult subject matter, and is a particularly gritty piece of drama, so be prepared to be emotionally challenged and leave The Old Red Lion completed exhausted.

Good theatre doesn't have to be an entertaining laugh a minute affair, but it obviously must always be truly compelling - and that's what Whelan has achieved in spades, with a very satisfying conclusion. The Deep Space is very promising offering from Whelan as a producer, a playwright and actor. Do keep an eye out for her next move.

The Deep Space ran from 19th February to 9th March 2013 at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)

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