Review: Leaves of Glass (The X Collective)

Aidan O’Donnell and Nathan Kennedy as Barry and Steven in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

Content note: This production contains coarse language, depictions of domestic violence, and spoken references to suicide and child abuse.

Following postponements earlier in the year due to COVID-19, The X Collective has now opened their riveting production of Philip Ridley’s dark domestic drama, Leaves of Glass, directed and produced by Wayne McPhee.

Sandra Harman as Liz in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

Written by Philip Ridley, Leaves of Glass premiered in London in 2007 and focuses on two brothers, Steven and Barry, in the aftermath of their father’s death a decade before. Steven is established as the long-suffering eldest son, running a graffiti removal business that employs his younger brother Barry, an artist and recovering addict, while expecting his first child and helping his widowed mother to move to a new home.

Despite his outward success, Steven is haunted by the death of his father and the ghost of a young boy; struggling to hold his marriage together as the past pushes through to the surface, Steven’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble. As the play continues, the audience is drawn into the heart of a dysfunctional family where secrets and silence are the tools for survival. Denial, co-dependence, and gaslighting present different perspectives of ‘the truth’, and everyone is complicit.

Caroline Sparrow and Nathan Kennedy as Debbie and Steven in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

Leaves of Glass is a complex play about trauma, memory, and survival structured in three acts, or trimesters. Debbie’s pregnancy acts as a temporal structure; the new baby grows and is brought into the world parallel to the painful secret that the brothers share. Leaves of Glass is a lengthy work, running over two hours and scripted to play through without pause, although this production included a brief interval between the second and third trimesters. Surprising moments of humour provided a reprieve from the heaviness of the unravelling family secrets and were managed well by the cast.

Sandra Harman as Liz in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

From the play’s opening scene, Steven shares memory fragments directly with the audience, slowly painting a picture of his own trauma and the suppressed rage and guilt he directs outwards. By contrast, Barry shares his traumatic memories with the other characters. Leaves of Glass takes place in the present, but the characters are trapped by their shared past.

Aidan O’Donnell and Nathan Kennedy as Barry and Steven in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

The production made good use of the performance space, using both the existing stage and the space in front of it to create distinct settings. Although the acoustics varied throughout the room, the actors all accounted for this in their performance and were able to be heard clearly across all spaces onstage. Lighting design by Cate Petersen clearly established the space that was currently in use and a number of creative lighting choices, including handheld lights, added texture to the stage. Set designs were detailed and included numerous props, evolving throughout the performance, although this also resulted in lengthy transitions between scenes. Sound was used in these transitions, as well as to assist in the setting and storytelling.

Nathan Kennedy and Aidan O’Donnell as Steven and Barry in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

Nathan Kennedy played a tightly wound and practical Steven, contrasted against Aidan O’Donnell’s emphatic and enthusiastic Barry. Highly physical blocking established a clear relationship between the two brothers, and O’Donnell’s impressive delivery of his character’s final monologue was chilling. Sandra Harman brought a grounded maternal energy to the stage as Liz, creating a balance between the high tensions of Barry and Steven and building a well-rounded character who was many things – a grieving widow, an overbearing mother, and a woman struggling to maintain a story about her life and her family that she could live with. Caroline Sparrow played the role of Debbie, Steven’s self-assured wife, providing comic relief with both scripted and physical comedy but also holding her own in confronting emotional scenes. Debbie, as a character, offered the audience more of an outside perspective on the insular family dynamic, and Sparrow’s use of facial expressions and body language mirrored the response of the audience in those scenes. The play is set in London and the cast adopted English accents, although these were not entirely consistent between the actors or throughout the production.

Aidan O’Donnell and Nathan Kennedy as Barry and Steven in Leaves of Glass, photographed by Naz Mulla

Although there were numerous confrontations between the characters throughout, the silences between them were equally full and the breathless, horrified silence of the audience as the secrets unravelled in the final act was a testament to the skill of the cast and the director.

Claustrophobically tense and emotionally devastating, The X Collective’s production of Leaves of Glass will stay with you long after the final scene.

Leaves of Glass will play at the Brisbane Latvian Hall, Woolloongabba, from 8 – 30 April 2022.

Click here for ticketing and further information

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