The Hope Theatre, Islington – until 26 September 2015
Guest reviewer: Terry Eastham
The highest duty of a father is to protect his family. This may sound like an old-fashioned idea, but I’m sure it still strikes a chord with many a man, and it’s the underlying theme behind Abraham Arsis’ debut play Only Forever at the Hope Theatre, Islington.
War has broken out, but that’s not a problem for George (Edward Pinner) and his family. Thanks to the foresight of George’s father, there’s have a shelter deep underground to protect him and his loved ones from the ravages of war.
In order to keep things running smoothly, George and his injured wife Margaret (Christine Rose) make sure their children – teenager Victoria (Jennie Eggleton), young Charles (Lewys Taylor) and Robert – are given chores which are divided rather along traditional and stereotypical male/female lines – women cook and wash, men do the heavy jobs like keeping the generator running etc.
The family has been in the bunker for a long time, even the sounds of war that make it down to them seem to have stopped, and the children – particularly Victoria – are getting restless. But George, supported by Margaret, is totally in control of things, even dealing with an unexpected and shocking occurrence in the most coldly logical way possible, until one day when Robert leaves the safety that George offers His family. The repercussions of this have a devastating effect on the family leading to truths being spoken, elephants being acknowledged and a final revelation that sets their fate forever.
“Only Forever” is a hard play to define and review Writer Abraham Arsis literally drops the audience into the middle of the family’s life. They have obviously been in the bunker for a long time – Charles can’t remember a time outside – and initially seemed pretty well adapted to their lives in their. Quick word about the set. Ben Eggleton has done a fabulous job in turning the performing space of the Hope into a claustrophobic bunker, where the audience are placed directly in the set surrounded by gun grey walls with the actors walking around them making the space feel tighter than it really is. Director Poppy Rowley brings so much out of the cast who are superb together. Edward Pinner’s authoritarian and dictatorial George who is constantly striving to hold himself together for the family is a marvel, especially those moments when he does lose control and we, the audience, start to question his actions and motivation, are brilliantly done. I was trying to think of a way to describe Margaret and the thought that instantly sprung to mind was that Christine played her initially like a Stepford Wife but one with a backbone of steel that eventually takes over as she confronts her husband. There is a real love between these two characters that even though the years have dimmed it, remains right up until the end. Turning to the children, Charles was a lovely character. With a basic belief that his father was always right, Lewys Taylor played Charles with a wonderful naivety and innocence that made you almost fearful as to what would happen to him if he ever left the bunker. Victoria is possibly the most complicated of the four characters and Jennie Eggleton played her exceptionally well. A girl who had gone from child to adult in the bunker, Victoria was a mass of teenage hormones, angst and more as she tried to establish her place in this small world shut off from everything.
So to sum up “Only Forever” I don’t think I’ve ever left a theatre with so many questions about four people in my life. The conversation in the bar afterwards between my companion and I was dominated by trying to analyse what we had just seen. Certain elements of the play we both interpreted completely differently, and we both argued for our own point of view over a drink or two for quite a while – since I’m the one writing the review, obviously mine was the correct one. But this was the power of the writing. Although we had only a glimpse of the family’s lives, by the end we felt that we knew them well enough to understand and identify with them. “Only Forever” is a play that doesn’t end when the curtain comes. A true piece of great theatre.
ONLY FOREVER – THE HOPE THEATRE until 26th September 2015
By Terry Eastham (@Terry_Ea)