It is intellectually thought-provoking; I was about to protest smugly that our own society is not at all as unfair as the one portrayed in the play, but the list of milestone events in the history of race relations provided in the programme, with its shamingly recent examples of race crimes, certainly shut me up.
But moral lessons apart, this is a beautifully paced, superbly constructed, absolutely gripping piece of drama, with several towering performances from its young cast. Particularly wonderful were Richard Madden as Calum, who convincingly aged before our eyes, changing from a fifteen year old full of hope and promise to a man who has been crushed and warped by his grief and anger into a violent terrorist, yet miraculously retains a core of humanity and love that can be reignited by Sephy. Ony Uhiara was also stunning as Sephy, a girl anyone would fall in love with for her courage, enthusiasm, and warmth as well as her beauty and charisma. Michelle Butterly was also devastatingly wonderful as Calum’s mum Meggie, her face prematurely tired and aged by the sheer effort of the struggle to keep her family together and pay the bills, but her spirit and her integrity undaunted as she loses first her daughter, then her husband, then both her sons. Sephy and Meggie both had the most beautiful voices – husky, warm, expressive.
This play does not, as you might guess, have a happy ending, but it does successfully demonstrate that people can be united, uplifted, rescued and redeemed by love even in the most cruel and unpromising circumstances. It was profoundly moving and I wasn’t the only member of the audience to be leaving with tears pouring down their face.
The staging – the RSC is moving wholly towards the apron type of stage, which is surrounded on three sides by the audience, instead of the traditional theatre stage where the audience is always in front – was extremely creative: the actors themselves placed and removed the scenery, and occasionally were the scenery, and they made the scenery and props into percussion instruments in time with the sound-track, which was brilliant. This was an extension of the dynamic energy of the whole piece. Really, you have to see this.
The M40 has made it perfectly feasible for people living in Oxford to enjoy RSC productions on a week-night; we left at 6, were parking before 7, had time for a swift pizza before curtain-up at 7.30. The Civic Hall is a pleasant and well-organized temporary venue while the RSC’s big theatre is being done up – easy to find and easy to park near. My daughter enjoyed this splendid play much more than the traditional panto.