Monday, 2 November 2015

Glass Eels - Nell Leyshon. Hampstead Theatre, June/July 2007

The play is set in Somerset during a hot August, focusing on the sexual awakening of a young woman brought up in an all male household and the loss of the rural way of life/eel fishing.

The central character is Lily (Laura Elphinstone) a 16 year old emotionally fragile girl, battling with her emotions as she comes of age. Her mother drowned when Lily was a child in the river near her home where the eels swim free. She still mourns the death of her mother, and keeps one of her dresses hidden under her bed. Her father finds it difficult to speak to Lily about anything, but especially the death of her mother.

Lily finds she can only relate to Kenneth (Tom Burke) a man old enough to be her father, and a family friend who has known her all her life. Lily's mother died when she was child, Kenneth's father died when he was a child. Lily's father is the undertaker, taking on the role of his father before him. Lily is treated as a skivvy, running around after her father, and her chair bound, constantly hungry grandfather. She cannot talk to them about the death of her mother, so her only outlet is to talk to Kenneth, a man of few words who has feelings for Lily, but does not appear to be in love with her.

The theme of life and death runs continuously throughout the play. Life is shown through the eels, they come back to this river from the Sargasso Sea, with an instinct to mate there and lay their eggs in the silt and the mud, and new life awakens in their silvery glass like bodies. Lily and the eels are both attracted to the river. The eels mate at the river, and the river is where she will seduce Kenneth on her nightly visits there.

This is not a fast paced edgy drama, but an ordinary tale of a sweet, slow burn coming of age story. The play is packed full of symbolism, the image of a fly trapped in a glass window pane and the cornered eels in a bath, mirror the life of Lily, trapped in a dilapidated house, and oppressed by the heat of the summer and the confines of her home.

The language of the play is slow paced and the characters are often reluctant to speak to each other, therefore it seems as though a lot of the communication would be through knowing looks rather than dialogue. For a sweet love story with hidden depths, this was an enjoyable and emotive read.

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