Leaves of Glass is the second in the so-called Brothers Trilogy, by UK writer and artist, Philip Ridley.
In Leaves of Glass, two brothers do their best to forget their traumatic past. After the suicide of their father when they were children, their lives have taken very different trajectories – the more conservative, emotionally blunted Steve (Dan Frederiksen) is now a successful small businessman with a shiny new house, a pretty young wife and baby on the way. As his younger brother ominously points out, Steve knows how to make money.
The younger, artistic Barry (Johnny Carr) was closest to their father, and their father’s death appears to have impacted most on the younger son. At the start of the play, Barry, an art school drop-out, is struggling with alcohol and is haunted by a childhood ghost, relying on his older brother for a menial job to make ends meet. But as time moves on, he appears to be getting his life together, managing to sell some of his work and with an exhibition imminent.
The reliable Steve is the least emotionally demonstrative and, being on stage for the entire play, it is largely through his eyes we watch events unfold. But in contrast to his younger brother, Steve’s private life appears to be slowly falling apart, and through a series of monologues and tightly scripted conversations we see evidence of his mind starting to unravel - paranoia, alcohol, violence. It soon becomes clear Steve is haunted by ghosts of his own and that a dark family secret is trying to surface - as Ridley puts it, the truth will out. Steve it appears, is not quite the passive player we first assumed, and perhaps the fractures within this family have been carefully cultivated.
As with Mercury Fur, the first in Ridley’s trilogy of brotherly love, memory plays a significant role in the story telling and as the play progresses, the memories reach further back in time, closer to the source of the pain. But in this family their collective memories have been warped and twisted through oppression and repression, and without a reliable source, we are kept guessing as to where the truth really lies.
The set (Peter Mumford) sees the walls of the Red Stitch theatre painted white with a series of clear plastic curtains separating the audience from the stage. At times they are used to quarantine the characters from each other while at other times they are literally (and metaphorically) peeled away to reveal hidden areas. For the most part it works well, despite the rather unsubtle symbolism, highlighting both the characters’ sense of isolation and the sterility of their relationships.
Director Simon Stone has elicited strong performances from the entire cast. As the two brothers, Dan Frederiksen (Steve) and Johnny Carr (Barry) have a believable chemistry and their complex rivalry is well realised. The charismatic Carr convincingly straddles the emotional extremes of his character, and thankfully avoids the “artistic temperament” stereotype. Frederikson gives a fine, subtle performance, keeping the cautious Steve in check - at least in public - while blistering in private. Jillian Murray is outstanding as their anguished mother Liz, who struggles to suppress a lifetime of guilt and wishes nothing more than to sweep the past under the carpet. Amelia Best gives a fine performance as Steve’s demanding wife.
With Ridley’s exceptional and darkly poetic script and strong performances from the small cast, this is a highly accomplished work from Red Stitch and a well-balanced production from director Simon Stone.
Leaves Of Glass
by Philip Ridley
Directed by Simon Stone
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East (opp Astor)
Dates/Times: Wednesday 29 April – Saturday 30 May at 8pm (Sundays at 6.30pm)
Tickets: $20 - $34
Bookings: www.redstitch.net (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083