The Distance Between the Stars (Kings Arms, Salford)

Solid writing, yet patchy direction leads to a promising piece, unfulfilled at times.

The Distance Between the Stars
The Distance Between the Stars

Elliot (David Bresnahan) is recovering from a nervous collapse. At the prompting of his sister Helen (Mary Hooton) he undertakes therapeutic activities including re-establishing contact with Daisy (Demi Jo Franks) who he met whilst hospitalised.

But Elliot’s hobby of listening for signals from space is resulting in him entering a fugue state in which he receives disconcerting messages.

The subject of mental illness presents challenges for producers who may prefer to avoid anything that could be seen as insensitive. There is some confusion as to the appropriate atmosphere for The Distance Between the Stars.

Writer Steve Timms takes a character-driven approach developing the relationship between Elliot and Daisy. The event that prompts the deterioration in Elliot’s condition is, however, frustrating unclear.

A chaotic display board dominates Hannah Rowe’s set and the tables and chairs are wrapped in newspaper as if to suggest there is no longer any room on the walls. This indicates that Elliot might have had a disturbed and obsessive mind all along although such a dark tone is largely absent from the play.

Director Anthony Bowers-Smith carefully steers a path between comedy and drama and this rather timid approach wastes the potential of parts of Steve Timms’s script. Convinced his missing wife has travelled into space Elliot emerges onto the stage in a homemade space suit. It is a scene that ought to provoke a strong audience reaction – either a bark of laughter or cry of concern- but instead we just sit there and wait for the play to progress.

The leisurely pace of the play exposes flaws in the script that might otherwise have slipped by unnoticed. It is revealed that Helen works as a therapist. As she doesn’t notice the deterioration in her brother’s condition you wonder about her professional competence.

Bowers-Smith settles for a romantic tone with sweeping music dominating the final scene. It works largely because of a warm and very natural performance from Demi Jo Franks but you can’t help but wish a clearer direction had been determined earlier.

This is a solid but rather timid production that does not realise the potential of The Distance Between the Stars.

The production continues at the Kings Arms, Salford until 22 November.