Omnibus Theatre, London – until 8 February 2020
The Glass Will Shatter, presented by Althea Theatre, is a gripping, visually intriguing and thought-provoking production of a new play by Joe Marsh.
This is a tough show to review, because I don’t want to give too much away. There is a genuine sense of discovery as we meet Rebecca, Jamilah and Amina, and non-linear story telling is used to powerful effect to subvert our pre-conceptions and character sympathies. Marsh’s writing is all the more powerful because it prompts thoughts, shows details, teases themes and shifts perceptions, all without telling the audience what they should be thinking, or undermining the authenticity of what you have already learned. This results in a theatrical experience that transcends storytelling, and takes us into the realm of self-discovery. Who, how and why we judge is reflected back at us, throughout the journey of the play.
In the opening scene we join Rebecca and Jamilah catching up over a coffee, eight years after they worked together. Jamilah is now deputy head of the school Rebecca also taught at. Rebecca gave up teaching for marketing. Rebecca has anxiety. Rebecca has dreams that haunt her. Jamilah is in those dreams. So is Amina.
With themes of trauma, redemption, extremism, education and social profiling, this is a rich and rewarding play. It reflects the London of today, but also hints at the further horrors of tomorrow. It successfully balances big social and political themes with deeply personal and resonant experiences. This is a powerful, and urgent new play that showcases Marsh’s incredible play-writing talent.
In addition to being an exquisitely crafted play, this is a visceral and dynamic production. Will Monks’ lighting design is exquisite, adding to the drama and unsettling nature of the play. Nicola Chang’s sound design had me on edge in places, really reinforcing the experience we are seeing on stage. Plus the creative captioning of the show, not only makes all performances accessible to deaf audiences, but serves to reinforce and echo the story we are being told. This is a play where words can’t be fully trusted, and this captioning highlights their inadequacy. The facts vs the emotional truth are visibly at war.
The dynamism and fearlessness of Lilac Yosiphon’s direction is present in all aspects of this production. She is not afraid to push boundaries, all while serving the central truth of the play. There are no superfluous gimmicks, this is a piece where all the creative elements come together to amplify the whole. She also brings out superb performances from her cast. Josephine Arden really captures the complexity of Rebecca’s needs. Alma Eno brings a gravitas and social wisdom to Jamilah, creating a grounding sense of calm as Rebecca and Amina’s stories swirl around her. While Naima Swaleh spikes with sharpness and unpredictability as Amina, bringing an energy to this character that clashes so convincingly with Arden’s Rebecca.
Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster’s choreography serves as an hypnotic narrative glue grounding us in the emotional truth of each new scene as it begins. This ensured that my attention never wavered across the 1hr25minute running time.
‘The Glass Will Shatter’ runs at the Omnibus Theatre until 8th February. I highly recommend seeing this compelling new play while you can.