What Was Left at Southwark Playhouse
Buzzing with plenty of energy, What Was Left is an ambitious play that seeks to explore the lives of three characters thrown into a difficult situation. While the premise is engaging and plenty of actors make a strong debut here as part of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Bridge Company, the entire experience ultimately fails to satisfy due to its lack of focus, weak prose and frustrating sound design.
At the beginning of the drama, Soph, Sim and Dex find themselves without a caretaker after their parents had disappeared a while ago and their grandmother dies. Soph, the only grown-up of the trio, is left in charge to take care of her younger siblings. From then on, What Was Left tries to capture how disputes, lies and personal strife threaten to undermine the family peace – but rarely succeeds in doing so.
Part of the issue is that the three characters are each played by multiple actors to demonstrate how they incorporate different roles at different times, as the vicar states in the context of the deceased grandmother’s funeral in the opening. This only works once for Sim, whose (predictable) coming-out-of-the-closet leads to an enchanting scene in which he hugs his double. For the other two, however, it feels forced, strange and inconsistent, and is more often confusing than interesting.
Another issue is the general style. Rather than having deep, well-written scenes that have time to develop, here we are presented with many tiny snippets that generally don’t do much. It doesn’t help that the dreadful sound design is extremely over-the-top and noisy, making a lot of it – especially the last half-hour or so – almost unbearable to watch. Perhaps these decisions are made to hide the generally woody dialogue. At least the play isn’t moralising, which it easily could have been under these circumstances. There are a few contrived moments that shoehorn “messages” into the mix, but they are generally short and painless.
It’s not all bad though. The lighting design by Ben Pickersgill is effective and the set by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen is nice to look at. The cast, while suffering under the yoke of a mean script, nevertheless manages to deliver a charming performance during the little time that each actor actually gets to speak their lines. Sadly, these few silver linings do little to make the 80-minute play – which feels like four hours – seem any shorter.
Photo: Helen Murray
What Was Left is at Southwark Playhouse from 15th until 29th June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.