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The Believers (Tricycle Theatre)

Impressive design makes Bryony Lavery's unsettling play eerily memorable

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Eileen Walsh and Richard Mylan in The Believers
© Helen Maybanks

A night of cataclysmic weather brings two families together and something terrible happens: how and what exactly make up the meat of Bryony Lavery's play. As the families try to piece together what occurred and where ultimately to lay blame, so is the play a meditation on how to make sense of tragedy.

This production is wonderfully unsettling, particularly thanks to its design. Carolyn Downing's clever sound design uses a mix of discordant and electronic house music with a strong base beat to keep you on edge and Andy Purves' assured lighting design uses spots, strobe, blackouts as well as cigarette lighters to expertly highlight Jon Bausor's geometric design, which effectively captures the heart of this play about broken pieces.

Frantic Assembly's artistic director Scott Graham brings the best out of his performers and his staging is fluid and dynamic. "I'm at sea here" says one player to the other as they hang suspended horizontal to the audience, standing in a room of the house. There's a frame which is moved about the stage and demarcates various rooms. It includes the outline of a doorway which the cast never fail to use ensuring the integrity of this device. Altogether it's another beautiful example of the non-traditional staging used so effectively by this company.

Expertly performed by a very strong ensemble cast, I must applaud Eileen Walsh in particular for a stand-out performance. She is the emotional heart of the piece and carries it well. One of her final scenes - which involves a child's jumper - is both disquieting and moving.

For all this however there's a sense, at the end, of style over substance. Lavery tackles big questions but I didn't leave the play thinking about them. What has stayed with me is the discordant sounds and flashing images which is unsettling but ultimately a little hollow.