Bunker Theatre, London – until 30 September 2017
“Don’t you ever say you’re a terrible son” … The latest copy of the Beano, an illicit jar of Marmite and a day trip to Brighton – the stuff of the best kind of childhood memories. So even though they’re bunking off school, now-teenage best pals Seb and Aaron are onto something in trying to recreate the magic.
But something’s not quite right, something’s not quite the same, and given that the play starts with Aaron being questioned by a police officer, something’s most definitely up. Alex Gwyther’s Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is beautifully put together in the way that it reveals just what that is – exploring the intersection of past trauma on present behaviour, questioning the durability of the human spirit and the lengths it will go to try to survive. Tightly constructed by Gwyther and directed with real suspense by Derek Anderson, it’s a powerful addition to the programme at the Bunker Theatre as its first birthday fast approaches.
Given the lightning-fast switches between past and present, Anderson’s team of creatives respond to the challenge brilliantly. Jonnie Riordan’s movement work helps Danny-Boy Hatchard’s Aaron and Joe Idris-Roberts’ Seb to capture much of the ungainly physicality of adolescence, the awkwardness with which growing boys occupy their space in the world, emotionally as well as physically. The work is here is deceptively simple but they’re utterly convincing.
And there’s something of this hinterland between boy and man in the sparseness of Alyson Cummins’ design with its unassuming set of grey blocks, shifted around to make a train carriage, a police station, a bedroom. In this constant activity, you can’t help but be reminded of boys at play, the long-forgotten innocence proving impossible to recapture, crucial thematic reinforcement thus threaded throughout every beat of the production.
Hatchard’s persuasive Aaron bubbles with scarcely repressed anger, so much more than teenage rage hinting at the darkness to come. The post-interval arrival of Phoebe Thomas’ beautifully compassionate Lily heightens the stakes and tightens the screw almost unbearably under the shadow of domestic violence. And Joe Idris-Roberts (who’ll be Pinocchio for the National’s big Christmas musical) is stunning as the hammer-blow of the climax strikes, as the full complexity of what has happened, of what is still happening, reveals itself. One to keep your eyes open for!
Running time: 100 minutes (with interval)Photos: Anton Belmonté of 176 Flamingo LaneBooking until 30th September