Only Forever at the HopeCultureTheatre
The snugly intimate confines of Islington’s Hope Theatre serve as the perfect setting for Only Forever: Abrahan Arsis’ taut and claustrophobic tale of a family placed under impossible pressure.
As the first bombs of an unspecified war began to fall around them, George (Edward Pinner) led his wife Margaret (Christine Rose) and their three children to the cramped safety of a subterranean bunker constructed by his own father a generation before. There, the audience finds the family living an apparently charmed life of home schooling and assigned chores, until the idyll is threatened by elder sibling Robert’s decision to escape it and return to the now eerily silent town above.
Through neat staging from director Poppy Rowley and design by Ben Eggleton, the Hope’s diminutive size works in its favour to immersive effect. With walls and floors painted to resemble aged concrete, the whole theatre forms the bunker’s main room. The audience, perched on benches around the familial dining table, are inclined to feel the escalating tension (and to chart it in the faces of fellow onlookers) more readily than they might from the anonymous darkness of a stall seat. It’s something of a shame then that the script fails to convey this atmosphere to the same degree.
The overarching story and darkly canny twist are solid enough foundations on which to work, but dialogue appears too often to have been written solely to carry the action to the next significant plot point, with little of textural worth to impart along the way. The clichéd and utilitarian interactions between the family members promotes little emotional investment in their plight, which ultimately dulls the impact of the play’s climactic shocks.
As an exercise in theatre as escapism, there is much to recommend in Only Forever. It certainly serves to transport audiences into its authentic underground setting, though missed opportunities mean the narrative is unlikely to remain with them much beyond the moment they return, blinking, to the outside world.
Only Forever is on at the Hope Theatre from 8th September until 26th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.