Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem at Old Red Lion Theatre
With a haunting plot which thematises the darkest sides of family life, a loving production by Thomas Martin and an excellent cast, Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem promises to deliver a chilling evening with plenty of heart-wrenching moments. While the show occasionally falls into the realm of unbelievability and melodrama, it is nevertheless often a powerful exploration of the worst possible family tensions.
The play starts out on a bleak note with Eamonn (Dan Mullane) committing suicide after years of neglect by his daughter, Sarah (Madeleine Bowyer). The latter, meanwhile, struggles to keep her wits about her as her son Ben (Daniel Rainford) struggles with a dreadful fit of depression during his last months at Cambridge, resulting in him not attending most of his final examinations. The main focus is on Sarah, and we get to see her struggles both as a single mother during an extremely difficult period and as a daughter during flashbacks in which the audience learns more about the manipulative and emotionally abusive nature of Eamonn.
The set design by Georgia de Grey represents what looks like a dark and barren forest, which matches the tone perfectly, and the sound design by Hollie Buhagar is both subtle and atmospheric. Both of these aspects make Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem carry an emotional punch which is amplified even further by the excellent actors. All three incorporate their characters perfectly, although Bowyer needs to be highlighted for her ability to jump from one emotion to the next as the scenes change from her present struggles to one of the flashbacks with her father.
Sadly, the plot often goes too far in its depiction of its themes. It’s not that the writing is bad by any standard – on the contrary, much of this is gorgeous prose – but that there is practically not a single moment of relief; this is essentially an exercise in two hours of melancholia, which consequently runs the risk of falling into the realm of melodrama and makes the ending feel slightly contrived. It also has an unfortunate effect on the characters: none of them seem to develop at all, but instead remain largely passive receptors of the influences that surround them.
But Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem still remains a strong show with a large amount of potential, perfect for those who wish to watch a tragedy which dives deep into important issues such as suicide, depression and toxic family relationships.
Photo: Ali Wright
Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem is at Old Red Lion Theatre from 3rd May until 25th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.