22nd March 2007
Leaves by a first time writer and George Devine award winner Lucy Caldwell is set in Ulster. It’s a confidently written piece of family drama telling the story of Lori the oldest daughter who goes off to university in mainland Britain but then attempts to commit suicide.
The bulk of the play deals with the fractured family attempting to understand and deal with this trauma as Lori returns home. The family argue among themselves, often goading each other, while the younger girls, Clover and Poppy, struggle to understand what has happened to their older sister.
It’s all rather bleak - what mainly comes across is a sense of incomprehension and thwarted love. As a portrait of a fractured family Leaves is affecting – but we don’t really get to know what caused the fracture; why Lori attempted suicide. There’s surely more going on in her life than is revealed in the play. The reasons behind her attempt don’t seem to be explored. Is it simply the fact of going to university? Or is her rather nebulous idealism – that life must get better – the root cause of the misery presented on stage?
From the mother’s point of view things have got better, compared to her childhood. But for the eldest daughter this is meaningless. She has no understanding of what her mother endured.
The final scene – with the family happily celebrating Lori’s imminent departure for university shows another side of the family. They are cheerful and optimistic – but coming at the end it doesn’t actually help in understanding what has gone before. It might have been more effective if the scene had been played in linear time at the start.
The acting is convincing, especially Fiona Bell’s grief-stricken mother and Conor Lovett’s shell-shocked father - the solitary male in a household of women.
But for all its satisfying staging and performance, and despite being well written the play seems a little incomplete and has an old-fashioned feel overall.
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs