Review: LAVA by James Fritz at Neville Studio. Nottingham Playhouse.

There are many times when a reviewer’s interpretation of a play gets immured in story analytics and wild supposition. Second guessing the second act and its outcomes is critically de facto. Whilst recognising emotional highs and lows as presented by the acting company and the writer’s work, the true engagement can be side-lined in the need to create discourse and argument in the formation of a fair and hopefully entertaining review. What this reviewer is trying to put over is that in reviewing the bigger picture of how a show affects an audience emotionally generally often takes precedence over this reviewer’s realistic personal feelings.

Not so with James Fritz’s most excellent play, LAVA. The storyline is so subtly cryptic that the viewer is sucked into the very believable stories and explanations of behaviour following a freak asteroid disaster that has recently befell the, now crippled, city of London. But then to explain the whole truths of this clever play would be dangerously encroaching on a massive spoiler city alert. You just have to experience it for what it is and like this entranced reviewer get genuinely carried along on an emotional roller coaster where the laughs (and there are plenty) temporarily hide the real sympathetic heart of the story of speechless Vin (Ted Reilly) and those with whom he exists.

Designer Amy Jane Cook’s modernist style set design is perfect symbolism depicting the dual circular playing spaces as comforting hideaways and spaces to pace around and interact within. A hidden doorway reveals more human secrets than expected and the actors’ motivations upon entrance and exits are sublimely realised. A backward glance on exiting can say a million words. Angharad Jones’ direction is sharp, pacey and keeps the action emotionally taut.

The four actors Fred Fergus (Jamie), Safiyyar Ingar (Rach), Emma Pallant (mother Vicky) and Ted Reilly (Vin) are uniformly excellent working in a natural (yet theatrical) language that is very ‘now’ and Reilly’s unspoken role speaks volumes about the fragility of his character without over egging the proverbial pudding. The work of video designer Louise Rhoades- Brown really pushes the boundaries of what can be visually achieved in a studio performing space.

James Fritz’s top notch play LAVA is a supreme example of the stratospherically high standard of new theatre writing that is being showcased in this Neville Studio production. This production is being realised artistically through a co-production between Fifth Word and Nottingham Playhouse. It is down to the soaring quality of the production as a whole that this piece truly engages its audience (and reviewer) to the acute levels of emotional complicity that it does. It leaves one with a tear of joy in the very very last seconds and yet retains a story of grief and multi-levelled renewal in the still beating heart that may last a lifetime.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe.

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