Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Only Forever at the Hope Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Only Forever at the Hope Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Only Forever at the Hope Theatre
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13 Sep REVIEW: Only Forever at the Hope Theatre

If you asked most parents how far they would go to secure the safety of their children, almost all would say they’d do “pretty much anything.”

So what if that “anything” involved going to live in an underground bunker, cut off from the world with no electricity save for that generated by peddling a stationary bike, and nothing to eat but canned food? Would you do it? Sure, it seems a workable short term solution, but how would you know when it’s time to come out? And how would you – and your children – cope with having nobody but each other for company?

In Abraham Arsis‘ Only Forever, audiences are taken into the underground bunker inhabited by Margaret (Christine Rose), George (Edward Pinner) and their children, where they’ve been holed up for a decade and a half having fled there to escape “the war” – assumed to be the Second World War by virtue of the attire and era-appropriate strictly-enforced gender roles. The interior of the bunker itself is brought into sharp focus with patchily white-washed walls notably devoid of windows, as even the usually inconspicuous windows of the Hope are covered with “wall,” creating an intensely claustrophobic experience, made all the more uncomfortable thanks to the long, backless wood-topped benches that accommodate audiences (Ben Eggleton) and harsh, flickering fluorescent strips (Dan Saggars) that flood the entire studio with light.

Inside the vividly-constructed bunker, the story gradually unfurls its wings one detail at a time, as facts begin to emerge through a dark and twisted narrative. Well-acted, Jenny Eggleton shows herself to be a charismatic and charming actress, helped, of course, by the character she portrays being such a likeable livewire, switched on, strong and perceptive. The combination of character and actress results in someone it’s impossible to take your eyes off, carrying the major plot points and forcing the audience to emotionally engage with the play in a way the other characters don’t.

This is particularly true of George; despite being well played by Edward Pinner, he seems one-dimensional, his sexist behaviour and uncomfortably domineering persona combining to create a character who comes across as being nasty for the sake of it. This all feels like a missed opportunity by Arsis, as even though there are plenty of reasonable explanations for why he behaves the way he does, we never see a tender side to George, or any coherent narrative to provide that much-needed explanation. The result is that he comes across more psychopath than family man, and for this reviewer, that seems to miss the point of the play.

Away from this omission, the play has a further problem in its use of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Arsis uses Victoria’s reading of the play as a key literary device, with her working her way through a paperback copy with the final few pages missing as part of her mother’s attempts to educate her. As she progresses, we share not only in the gorgeous optimism of a girl untainted by the cynicism learnt by living in society, but also the ability of her mother to re-write the ending, playing God in Romeo and Juliet’s lives, just like she has her own children. But as powerful as the metaphor is, it immediately falls apart and loses any potency the moment it’s subject to any level of scrutiny. It hinges on scenes of Victoria hoping passionately for a happy ending. But as anyone who has read, or seen the play will know, Romeo and Juliet opens with the chorus telling the audience how it all ends, saying explicitly that the, “star-crossed lovers take their life.” It’s a niggle, yes, but one that recurs over and over again, and undermines the entire device, leaving a “that just doesn’t make sense”-shaped hole.

Question marks aside, Only Forever does well to draw you in, presenting a claustrophobic tale of a very different kind of family life. Dark and mysterious, it has the capacity to intrigue and horrify, and will almost definitely make you think twice before jumping into an underground bunker yourself.

For tickets and information:
Venue: The Hope Theatre
Dates: 8th – 26th September 2015
Image: Dan Saggars

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here