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Held (Liverpool)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Upstairs in the surrounds of the Playhouse Studio, a family story is unfolding. Steve (Alan Stocks) and David (Ged Mckenna) are brothers. Like so many siblings they share memories of a youth spent in one another’s pockets. Through them we recall holidays spent on freezing cold beaches, injuries as the result of dares, and imagined slights from parents. It’s a story full of the bittersweet moments that make up a life spent together. It’s about memories, those shared and those remembered alone, and what it means when they’re all you have left.

This isn’t a comfortable subject matter to tackle, yet it’s sensitively directed by Lorne Campbell whose gentle direction suggests a real respect for what’s unfolding on stage. The writing from newcomer Joe Ward Monroe, is at times, exquisite. His script beckons us on as we travel down paths most choose to ignore. He has taken the taboo and left us to digest its meaning. This is a play that has the ability to haunt you long after.

The intimate surroundings of the Playhouse Studio have been transformed once more, this time by designer Katie Scott. This seats have been pushed back and now surround the stage, giving it an almost catwalk feel. We’re drawn in and pulled close to the actors, our attention flitting from one side to another. Space is something that’s been carefully considered here. We at times feel agonisingly distant, only to be thrown uncomfortably close together moments later. The full impact of the set becomes apparent as the play unfolds, making it rather elegant in its simplicity.

Pauline Daniels is sublime as Mary, an aging mother who is trapped within her own memories. Daniels has the unique ability to switch between childlike wonder and maternal torment in a heartbeat. Perfectly cast in the role, she is almost hypnotic. Alan Stocks and Ged McKenna play brothers who couldn’t be more different if they tried. It’s their forced conversations that bring the most relief, yet it is them who also make us ask the most difficult questions. Both men fully understand the weight of their roles, and handle them expertly.

Held is the debut play from writer Joe Ward Munrow. As a past graduate of the Everyman & Playhouse young writers group, he’s someone who has found himself squarely within the sights of theatre goers, most of whom are hungry for fresh themes and ideas.  It’s always exciting to see a debut play from a young writer. There’s the expectation that comes along with countless questions; will this be something different, or just more of what we’ve seen over the years?

Is it worth buying a ticket when we’ve nothing else to go on? What Held proves to us is that it’s always worth taking a chance and buying that theatre ticket. With so many voices struggling to be heard, it’s important for us to take the time to listen to them. This is a stunning play from a writer who I can’t wait to see more from, and proof that there is emerging talent just waiting to be discovered.

- Vicki Goodwin


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