The Night Season – Review – East Riding Theatre
By Rachel Howard, March 2017
A date night involving a trip to the theatre? Great! Even better when it’s a theatre that opened just over two years ago, showing their first in-house production of the year – Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s The Night Season.
East Riding Theatre, in the beautiful, historic town of Beverley, was founded by actor and local boy Vincent Regan. It is inside a former Baptist chapel, providing a unique and atmospheric space in which to set all manner of productions, from plays and workshops to comedy and music.
This current production is directed by the theatre’s new artistic director, Adrian Rawlins, who considers it one of his “favourite plays of the last 30 years”.
The plot centres on the Kennedy family, an Irish clan living under one roof. Patrick, played by the wonderfully funny and charismatic Clive Kneller, is the alcoholic patriarch. He’s struggling to bring up his three daughters, Judith (Bettine Mackenzie), Rose (Alice Beaumont) and Maud (Evie Guttridge). Living with them is the beautifully eccentric grandmother, Lily O’Hanlon (Lynne Verrall).
She steals the show with her hilarious one-liners: “He doesn’t smell married to me. Married men smell of rubber”. She brings a tear to the eye as she poetically describes her desire for one last lover and her distress at the absence of her daughter – who left the rest of the family for a life in London some years ago.
The audience watch as the arrival of an outsider, actor John Eastman (Gabriel Winter), acts as a catalyst for all the family’s hopes and fears. His residence at the Kennedy home brings to light the needs of each family member – often manifested with great emotional, and often comical, effect. I’m sure everyone can relate to at least one of the emotions portrayed, be it love, lust or loss. Watching these feelings unfold in such a raw manner makes each character all the more real and is testament to the talent on the stage.
Although the theatre is small in comparison with many others (it seats just 200), the set designers have worked wonders with the space available, and throughout the course of the two-hour play, we see the stage act as not only the Kennedy living room, but two different bedrooms, a library, a pub and even the beach. On a couple of occasions, the cast even use the aisles, making you feel even more immersed in this wonderful story.
It’s impossible to single out any one cast member as the driving force of this play – they all shine so brightly. The mix of comedy and heartbreak brought to the stage is all consuming. The image of a trouser-less, Y-front-adorned Patrick will stay with me (rightly or wrongly!) for some time, as will the look on Lily’s face as a bemused John takes her into his arms for a dance, unwittingly bringing to life her dreams and deepest yearnings.
This isn’t a flashy production – full of effects, action and spectacle – nor does it try to be. But it is jam-packed with something even better – raw human emotion and experience.
As Hull continues its year as UK City of Culture, there will be many more productions taking to stages all around the region, but you’d be hard-pushed to find one with as much heart as this.
images: Gavin Prest Photography