River in the Sky, Hope Theatre

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By Laura Kressly

Waves quietly break along the beach outside a remote holiday home. A woman drinks Earl Gray, eats biscuits and mourns her infant son. Her husband checks on her regularly, but within the icy sea of debilitating grief, they’ve lost the ability to communicate other than through fantastical stories of mythical creatures. Time all but stops in this sparsely-written series of snapshots depicting a couple trying their best to piece their lives together after a tragedy.

Peter Taylor’s script beautifully utilises imagery and metaphor, and the overarching concept is strong. It hasn’t quite figured out its pacing, so most of the play takes the most delicate of baby steps, then suddenly sprints to the end. It’s also not clear how much time has passed over the course of the story – it could be a few weeks, or months, or years. The exposition that goes back to them deciding how many children they want further skews it. A lot is left out, but this also shows the limbo that the unnamed couple are stuck in.

Lindsey Cross and Howard Horner effectively capture the pain and loss they are enduring, which is wonderfully contrasted by their vivid and energetic storytelling. They conquer the pale and boxy set, transforming it from a living room to the site of an epic battle, without moving a thing. There is little sense of the people behind their suffering, though this is down to the script’s scarcity.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on in this little play, but it feels like the bare bones of something bigger. The death of a child after years of trying to conceive is convincingly devastating, but more of the couple’s lives and a fleshier script would heighten its emotional impact.

River in the Sky runs through 24 August in London.

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