This year the 24:7 Theatre Festival continues to thrive as one of the most respected and important theatre festivals in the Northwest. With its cocktail combination of comedy, sadness, abstract and absurd, there is one play that stood out and affected me the most.
James Harker’s play is a powerful, brutally honest and creative tale of brotherly love as we follow the lives of Andrew and his ‘special’ brother Gary from childhood into adulthood. The play follows the evolution of the brothers and the experiences they had together from seeing their first football match as young boys to both self pleasuring themselves at the same time in their in the same bunk beds in their young teens. But as the play continues, things begin to change. Gary, the young child full of life and an everlasting love for his Barney Rubble toy begins to turn into a self-destructive hoodlum, full of anger and lost hope, leading him into a downward spiral of regret and fear. Andrew tries his best to support his little brother, but the more he tries to help Gary the more he begins to lose hope in saving his fallen brother.
Harker’s play is filled with electrifying moments that can twist the emotions of the audience from laughter into tears in an instant. This could be seen in the middle of the play in which a paranoid Gary, afraid that his house is going to be attacked by a rival gang, and as the characters wait in silence, the tension begins to build like a rising heartbeat. All of a sudden Gary screams an animalistic roar and swings a metal rod around in furious anger, the audience were all pushed back in their sits, blown away by the character’s will to survive. Only to reveal a devastating shock that effects both the young Gary and the eye-watering crowd.
Craig Morris’s portrayal the title character is phenomenal. Morris brings a life force to the character of Gary which is key as he brings the childlike characteristics and flowing energy that is recommend for this role. Reuben Johnson, who plays Andrew gives powerful performance as well. Johnson brings the correct amount of focus in telling the boy’s adventures to the audience as well as showing the character’s struggles and vulnerability in trying to save his brother. Both the actors as fantastic together, bouncing off each other with their fast delivery of the dialogue and performances. Both bring the correct amount of power to counter each other as they portray the brother’s bond and frustrations. This can be felt in every scene change, especially in one particular scene where Andrew visits Gary in prison, only to see a damaged boy in front of him.
Credit must be said about Danielle Mcliven’s skilled direction. Mcliven breathes life into this piece with her box filled staging, with each box containing a different item that moves the story forward and takes the audience deeper into the brothers lives and understand how they came to be who they are. This is a fascinating approach in storytelling that I have never seen before in any production and you can tell Mcliven has put her heart and soul into making sure that this modern tragedy does not lose momentum and that Harker’s writing is given the proper treatment and care it deserves.
I must warn audiences that Gary: A Love Story is not an easy watch. In one performance, when Andrew hears tragic news from the prison about his brother, I saw a woman crying so hard that she had to leave. This play is both personal and raw. This is a story that speaks truth about our society and The Justice System. But what holds it together is the true love between Gary and Andrew. A Triumphant De Force about brotherly love and brotherly hate. I highly recommend that you see this show whenever you can and hope that Gary: A Love Story is up there in the greatest theatrical works of the 21st Century.
Director: Danielle McLiven
Writer: James Harker
Cast: Reuben Johnson, Craig Morris
Crew: Chloe McLaughlin, Naomi Roxby Wardle