Reviewer: Megan Hyland
In Petrification, Zoe Cooper’s dynamic writing boldly explores the strains of family relationships, and how these relationships form who we are. Set in a local pub in the North East, it tells the story of two brothers – Sean and Simon – meeting up the night before their father’s funeral. However, after having been away in London at university, Simon is surprised to be meeting Sean’s boyfriend, Aidan. Uncomfortable with Sean’s new relationship and how close Aidan has become to his family, Simon struggles with the changes that have developed in his absence, and we begin to understand the significance of a family holiday to Whitby when the brothers were young.
The opening scenes of the performance are unusually honest, with Cooper’s expertly crafted dialogue and Mark Maughan’s direction combining to create a familiar and compelling narrative. The physicality of the actors and their increasing use of the limited space available begin to make the piece more animated and intense, creating momentum, as the details of the Whitby holiday are slowly revealed. As the play progresses, the tension between the three becomes more difficult to watch, built up by the dramatic combination of lighting and sound designed by Joshua Pharo and Guy Connelly. James Baxter delivers a particularly riveting and emotionally engaging performance as Sean, portraying a challenging yet heartfelt brotherly relationship in his chemistry with Neil Grainger as Simon. The two have a natural, energetic humour, whereas interactions between Grainger and Jamie Quinn as Aidan are perfectly awkward, reinforcing Aidan’s inability to become a part of the family.
However, as the details of the holiday and the different relationships the three men had with Sean and Simon’s father begin to spill into the story through imaginative techniques such as rewinds and multirole, the impact is slowly lost. It becomes near impossible to recognise who the actor is speaking as, and where we are in the story. The dizzying cuts between the past and present soon become far too confusing, and without answering some of the questions raised throughout the play, present a rather unsatisfying ending.
Nonetheless, Petrification is a captivating and meaningful representation of family dynamics and relationships that although confusing, is unbelievably refreshing. Zoe Cooper’s writing is clever, witty and shocking, and although seemingly simplistic in its summary, Petrification is a seamless and gripping spectacle.