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Box of Tricks Theatre


Letting In Air



by Becky Prestwich


Director Adam Quayle


Old Red Lion Theatre


10 - 28 November, 2009









A review by James Hogg for EXTRA! EXTRA!


This is a world premiere. Becky Prestwich, the playwright of this fantastic, gripping, funny and heartfelt play, has been working with the company for some time. Letting In Air is the fourth of her plays with Box of Tricks. She also (according to the program) writes screenplays, and there is something of that style here - quite short, neat scenes that set out the drama in highly effective dialogue, do what they need to and don’t linger on a point before shifting swiftly on to the next.  There’s nothing that doesn’t feel real, acutely observed and utterly believable in the text, and the direction keeps the pace, which could easily flag under the many rapid scene changes, flowing powerfully forward, as does some slick moving from the actors.

The play is about family ties. Adam has moved back to Manchester to be closer to his family, only to arrive just after his mother has died. As he and his father, Frank, struggle to come to terms with this, Adam is also dealing with the move and making a go of living with his girlfriend, Olivia. At the same time, Frank takes a difficult and vulnerable teenager (Amy) that he meets, seemingly by chance, outside a theatre one night under his wing. Adam and Frank have a lukewarm relationship at best, due to Adam’s anger and Frank’s withdrawn ways. Where Olivia tries to build bridges between them, Amy seems more set on breaking down walls. Will the truths long kept secret really be better aired, or will Amy’s wild attempts to heal old wounds do more harm than good?

I haven’t been as gripped by a play in a while. When the first act finished, I was distraught - were we really going to have to wait twenty minutes to find out what happened next? I almost didn’t join in the applause, I wanted rather to insist the play continue immediately. The cast is superb - Edmund Kente’s polite and dithery Frank with his good intentions and his locked-up grief, Ryan Hawley’s Adam, who furiously plays rugby rather than face his emotions, Tessa Mabbitt’s clever and desperate Olivia trying to keep her relationship on track and Rebecca Elliot’s sparkling, damaged Amy. There are really exquisite moments throughout, both very funny and very sad, set against wonderfully humdrum household activities - hovering, playing scrabble, hanging up the washing or the packing and unpacking of moving house. It’s a testament to the ability of the actors and the force of the script when simple things like sewing buttons on a pair of trousers or hanging up socks can be so filled with the fierce emotions hiding under the day-to-day chatter of the characters. It all rings true, and I quickly cared deeply about each of them.

The set mirrors the fractures in the relationships of these four people with a few simple but powerful devices, and further credit should rest with Charlie Cridlan’s design, which moves back and forth with little effort (between the family home of Frank and Adam and the new apartment that Olivia and Adam have just moved into) for its effective and flexible use of space. Natalie Walker’s sound and Steven Moseley’s lighting are also a big part of this, helping give the two rooms a different character and linking the scenes in time and space. Manchester is alive on the stage, even though very little of it is seen - there is a feel of drunken roaming about on dark city streets off-stage, and the weight of the night outside.

I feel nervous, as I write this, that I am somehow not doing this play enough justice, that if I heap too much praise on I’ll sound increasingly less convincing. Just go and see it, please, it’s a wonderful play. 




Box Office 0207 837 7816 or

Tickets £13, £11 concessions

Old Red Lion Theatre

418 St John Street
London EC1V 4NJ







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