Originally published on Reviews Hub
It doesn’t take long to realise that writer Barney Norris is the real deal. Within five minutes of Eventide, his follow-up piece to his award-winning debut Visitors, you feel yourself relaxing back in your seat aware that you’re in safe hands. Without needing to resort to major narrative plot points or high stakes character arcs, Norris has created a little gem, that finds its strength in beautifully observed characterisation, truthful, poetic dialogue and (rare in theatre) genuinely guffaw-inducing lines.
Set in the back beer garden of a Hampshire pub on the day of a memorial for a young girl killed in a car crash, three characters find themselves at a juncture in their lives. All yearning for something they can’t have, all recently suffering loss. James Doherty’s hard drinking, joker in the pack John is selling up his pub, not being able to afford to buy his ex-wife out, Hasan Dixon is fixing the war memorial damaged when the girl he secretly loved drove into it, while Ellie Piercy’s church organist seems to be hiding a yearning loneliness underneath her bashful good cheer. The second half returns to the same beer garden a year later; life has moved on, circumstances have changed and yet some yearnings still remain.
Norris sculpts his characters out of the slabs of human existence. These characters feel true to those we know; they could be friends, drinking companions, family or lovers. The unspoken line is as essential as what they say. A misplaced drunken throwaway line can cause cataclysmic damage to a relationship, the need to work and make money to pay the rent is more important than saying a proper goodbye to those you love.
Director Alice Hamilton has brought out some impressive performances to stand toe-to-toe with the delicacy of the writing. Doherty is most impressive as a man who masks his pain through telling jokes he has found in a joke book and drink he has found at the bottom of a bottle. His chaste, rather touching potential romance with Piercy’s goofy, pained amateur musician is dashed in a moment of drunken crudity that has the same shocking impact as the death of Ophelia to Hamlet. Meanwhile, Dixon charts the frustrations of a young man who is already finding his boyhood dreams crushed by real life, who comes to find happiness in a new found maturity; less daydream more joy in life’s little moments. It’s closing moments as one man looks forward as another looks back brings the play to an emotional climax.
Norris has already been marked as a talent to watch with his Critics’ Circle award for most promising playwright and Eventide confirms that promise in spades. It’ll be interesting to see where his work takes him next, more small-scale studio work or a move up to larger stages. If he can bring his eye for character and paint it on a larger scale, we could be in for something very special indeed.