Philip Ridley’s latest play, Leaves of Glass at The Soho Theatre, is not as explicit or unsettling as his last work, Mercury Fur, but it packs quite a punch none the less. Ben Wishaw leads the cast of 4, as Steven, the boss of a self built graffiti cleaning business. His younger brother Barry (brilliantly portrayed by Trystan Gravelle), is fragile and intense, a recovering alcoholic who also works for Steven. Steven’s pregnant wife (Maxine Peake) is suspicious of his recent behaviour, and he thinks that she has too close a relationship with his brother. Their mother Liz (Ruth Sheen) completes the picture, her husband having committed suicide (which she calls ‘his accident’) when their children were young. His death has cast a long shadow over all their lives, but indelibly damaged the brothers. Both find it difficult to cope with aspects of their lives and emotions, Barry’s alcoholism and Steven’s emotional detachment haven’t come from nothing.
The dark heart of the play only emerges in the last 30 verbally brutal and revelatory minutes (the play is 2 hours with no interval). The twisted relationships revealed can’t help but make you feel sick. Wishaw is such an intense actor, sometimes exhibiting a kind of twitchy physicality, it is hard to overlook his presence onstage even when silent. The rest of the cast are also very good in Lisa Goldman’s inaugural directorial project as supremo at The Soho. Her direction and the minimal stage clutter (a black box setting with two revolves and appropriate props) is a successful and sympathetic match for the descriptive language of the playwright to shine. Indeed the general action of the play is periodically interrupted by Steven, for him to vividly describe to us an incident from his childhood. Leaves of Glass is a play that doesn’t give us easy answers or concrete solutions, this, and Ridley’s descriptive mastery, makes it so worthwhile and evening out.