If you think you’re in a sterilised environment when you first see the stage for Leaves of Glass at the Red Stitch Theatre in Chapel St, you’re not far off. Walled off from each other by impenetrable, claustrophobic sheets of clear plastic, everyone in this world has their own reasons for remaining totally and utterly disconnected.
Leaves of Glass, Red Stitch Theatre, Chapel St
If you think you’re in a sterilised environment when you first see the stage for Leaves of Glass, you’re not far off. Walled off from each other by impenetrable, claustrophobic sheets of clear plastic, everyone in this world has their own reasons for remaining totally and utterly disconnected.
The plot outline for Leaves of Glass reads like an operatic tragedy in the making. Stephen is a harassed English businessman who has no time for his clearly distant wife, nor his dotty mother who, at first glance, just appears to be your average ageing parent. Meanwhile, Stephen’s alcohol- and drug-riddled brother, Barry, constantly steals the limelight from his over-achieving sibling.
It is clear throughout the first act that Stephen is closeted by three whirlwind forces: his wife’s pregnancy, his mother’s dotty behaviour and his brother’s self-destructive attitude. Wife and soon-to-be mother Debbie has a discordant relationship with her husband; loud, abrasive and ignorant, she clearly has no insight into the closed-off mind of her partner. The mother, easily excited and content to live in a world insulated from reality by lies and self-denial, isolating Stephen as the only sane person of the quartet.
Nevertheless, the stand-out character is always the skittish, younger brother Barry, who has an irritatingly charming quality and a natural artistic ability hampered by drug and alcohol abuse. Even though Barry constantly disrupts the monotonous flow of his brother’s life, he is somehow the only thing that makes Stephen smile.
Ironically, the play’s progression works against this initial assessment of the siblings: events throughout the play begin to illuminate Stephen’s deep-seated lack of empathy, while Barry’s fragility is a clear example of his humanity and an avenue through which the audience can connect with his character. The most unsettling aspect of the play is the way tension between the brothers is created by silence; repressed rage seeps through every pore of the duo without a single punch being thrown.
As diverse as the characters’ personalities may be, one haunting memory shared by the brothers links them all together and drives the play forwards. When a ghost child begins to disturb Stephen’s tightly controlled surroundings, reality slowly begins to seep through the tightly-knit fabric of lies that hold the family together. The plastic dividers allow Stephen’s soliloquies to quite literally become a window into a traumatic childhood. As act two progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that there is a deeply-hidden secret twisting the lives of the brothers into mirror images of good and evil. The question that inevitably arises at the end of the play defines Stephen and Barry’s lives; is it better to survive as an emotional and moral vacuum, or die with your honour intact?
Leaves of Glass is a taught thriller that highlights the fragility of familial relationships and analyses the complex ties that bind people together. When faced with diabolical emotional obstacles, Leaves of Glass offers a fascinating insight into the way polar-opposite people find a path to survival—however demonic that path may be.
Leaves of Glass
Date: April 29 – May 30
Venue: Rear Building, 2 Chapel Street Melbourne
Tickets: $20 Concession, $34 Full