Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Box of Tricks @ 24:7 Festival, 23.07.14

The Box of Tricks follows the building and breakup of brotherly bonds, illustrating the impact a feud can have on a family and the strains that exist between siblings. Written by Ric Brady & Stephen M Hornby and directed by Helen Parry, it deals with issues of expectation and ambition in a confident and concise manner.

Brothers Mike (Sam Thompson) and Mark (Sam Moran) live together in what at first appears to be a happy home. However, it soon becomes clear that everything is not alright and Mike is left to look after younger brother by himself. He offers the stability, security and support that a parent normally would and, in return, receives the unfettered adoration of his sibling. Jump forward twenty years and we see Mike returning home from abroad, no longer the centre of the family but now a pariah among his own people. What happened to cause such a seismic shift?

The story is paired down to the essentials, allowing a lot of ground to be covered in an hour without feeling rushed. Told with a mix of present and past events, the writing is clean and each character has a clearly defined voice that can be quickly picked up on. Mike’s support of Mark, who he begs to, “Please be someone,” is touching, as is his self-sacrifice in working to support Mark’s ambitions. As a pair Thompson and Moran go well together, although perhaps the standout moment is Thompson’s tearful performance in the closing soliloquy. The rest of the cast are also due praise, supporting the central pair assuredly. Parry has marshalled her actors well, keeping a stable balance between the different personalities and allowing each to express themselves without dominating, while the story moves on at an appropriate pace.

One could easily imagine The Box of Tricks as a full production, either on a professional stage or perhaps as a television play. Doing so would also alleviate the issue of adult actors playing themselves as children, which is often problematic and proved to be so here; it is nigh on impossible for adult male actors to play very young children without some degree of awkwardness. Given the needs of the script it is an unavoidable issue, and Thompson and Moran got through it without too many difficult moments.

The Box of Tricks is a solid play that tells an interesting story in a succinct manner, with a high standard of writing, direction and performance - well worth watching.

Words: Andrew Anderson

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