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 The Theatreguide.London Review

A Thousand Stars Explode In The Sky
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre      Spring 2010

The End Of The Universe is coming in two weeks (something to do with string theory), and the members of a divided family regroup at the old family pig farm to face cosmic annihilation together.

That's the premise of this new play co-written by David Eldridge (Market Boy), Robert Holman (Other Worlds) and Simon Stephens (Punk Rock).

But as imaginative as the concept may be, it goes almost nowhere that you couldn't predict, and almost nowhere that has anything new to say or offers much for us to become emotionally involved with.

The family are a mother and her five grown sons. One is dying and may not make it to The End, one is an emotionally closed man trying to raise his grandson, one is a weakling who has abdicated all responsibility to his wife, one is a street bum they've lost contact with, and one is a schoolboy with psychic powers.

Along with that wife, that grandson and his feckless mother, the coming apocalypse seems to have bent time and space so that the ultimate matriarch, the brothers' grandmother, can also appear with her lover. Oh, and the grandson, who is about the same age as his youngest uncle, shares his psychic powers.

As they all converge on the farm, old animosities will come to the fore, buried questions will be asked and answered, truths will be told, and presumably everyone will be better prepared to face the apocalypse in peace.

But the animosities prove little more than standard sibling or marital grudges, the truths and revelations banal.

The ghostly grandmother fears that she placed a House of Atreus curse on the family with her adultery; the mother confesses that, feeling unloved by her mother, she was unable to give love to her sons; and the brothers all admit that in one way or another they consider themselves failures.

And somebody actually expresses the moral out loud - that they have to learn to forgive themselves so that they can forgive each other.

Even by soap opera standards - and the play does keep sinking to soap opera level - this is pretty tame stuff, hardly enough to hold our interest or make us care.

Meanwhile the play spends too much of its length meandering aimlessly rather than driving toward its conclusion (perhaps a result of the group creation), giving us time to notice how little it's telling us, how long it drags on after saying all it had to say, and how awkwardly it handles its subsidiary plot points

The missing brother, searched for in Exeter, is somehow stumbled on in London; the ghostly grandmother's crime is not presented as all that bad or even relevant; the boys' psychic powers are never much more than an incidental curiosity, just like their shared asthma; and one of the secondary characters is too blithely killed off offstage.

Director Sean Holmes must bear some responsibility for the play's weak structure and pacing, just marching his actors on to the mainly bare stage to play a scene and then walk off, rarely making either time or place clear, and not giving the play the building tension or momentum you would expect the impending time limit to generate.

The actors all work admirably but too often seem lost and abandoned by their playwrights and director, with only Nigel Cooke (dying man), Alan Williams (grandfather) and Harry McEntire (youngest brother) able to manage moments of reality and interest.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of A Thousand Stars Explode In The Sky - Lyric Hammeramith 2010

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