Emotions are high, and everyone is on tenterhooks. A family is waiting for their eldest daughter Lori (Harriet Gordon-Anderson) to come home after a stint in a psychiatric hospital. It’s a nervous wait, and mum Phyllis (Amanda Stephens-Lee) and dad David (Simon Lyndon) are devastated and confused by their daughter’s suicide attempt. Younger sisters Clover (Bobbie-Jean Henning) and Poppy (Poppy Lynch) are also at a loss for answers, and find their own ways to prepare for Lori’s return.

Set in Belfast in Northern Ireland, playwright Lucy Caldwell has written a poignant family portrait exploring the complexities of familial relationships. Director Rachel Chant has brought together a strong team to bring Caldwell’s play to life in the small Kings Cross Theatre space.

LEAVES_ProductionImages_0707_ClareHawley-29The play is driven by the three sisters, each with their own distinct personalities. Lynch as 12-year-old Poppy is completely watchable. Her childish innocence is unforced and the relationships she creates with her family members are truthful and complex. Henning as spirited middle sister Clover plays off Lynch perfectly, and their interactions are totally believable and ultimately very moving.

Caldwell doesn’t introduce us to Lori until the second half, so we have to wait, just as the family does, for her appearance. Gordon-Anderson opens the act, defiantly smoking a cigarette, enveloped by her depression. She handles her character’s highly emotive scenes well, and gives a detailed, intuitive performance.

All three work brilliantly together, creating a believable family dynamic and finding some lovely moments. The first half feels lengthy, with Lori’s return being a little drawn out. The play really sizzles in the second half, which has a completely different dynamic. In particular, the scene between the three sisters is wonderfully observed.

LEAVES_ProductionImages_0707_ClareHawley-69Stephens-Lee is convincing as exasperated, hurt, confused mother. She doesn’t get much from Lyndon, whose stagnant performance borders on painful, but gets a chance to shine in a well constructed scene with her eldest daughter.

The Northern Irish accent is tricky, and there are more than a few issues here. However, the script is engaging and on the whole the performances are dynamic and help pull focus. Chant has created a simple production, with lovely set design by Isabel Hudson (also on costumes) and music by Nate Edmondson.

There is an underlying sense of melancholy running through Leaves. It a tender script that’s sometimes a little slow in parts, but has some very real observations. It touches on The Troubles that tore Belfast apart for 30 years, and gently raises the question of whether past violence and where you live affects your DNA.

Playing at the KTX until July 23rd.

Alana Kaye – Theatre Now