Back Row Writing: Review of Every Beautiful Thing

Back Row Writing is a new section of the Telegraph where we publish the opinions and views of theatre lovers. Some of them are in the industry, some are friends, some are audience members, all have ideas they want to share. Some are anonymous, some use a nom de plume, some just go by their regular every day name. For more on why we started this platform, see Finding the Voices.

sm Every Beautiful Thing with Briony Horwitz Jazzara Jaslin photo by Nardus Engelbrecht 03

Briony Horwitz photo by Nardus Engelbrecht

EVERY BEAUTIFUL THING: A bond stronger than blood.
Reviewed by A Girl.

Drama • Running Time: 50 mins
Written by Jon Keevy | Performed by Briony Horwitz and Jazzara Jaslyn | Directed by Tara Notcutt.

16 – 23 May 2015

As I enter the theatre a small smile curls on my lips. The image: a make-shift tent, warmed in ambers and the gentle glow of over-hanging fairy lights. The audience hears the whispers of sisters we are yet to meet and there is an immediate sense of nostalgia and innocence. The play begins with Susan (Briony Horwitz) and Katelyn (Jazzara Jaslyn) being birthed out of their secret world: babbling, teasing and testing. Just as quickly as it erupted, this image slips away like a distant dream (or nightmare?) and we are pulled into the present: a hospital room, where lies Katelyn, recovering from her most recent car accident, and Susan waiting with her, mother-like. The roles of explorer and protector have remained the same but they are in a world far removed from that lit by amber and fairy lights.

For the remainder of the 50min show we gather information, bit by bit, as the sisters exchange pieces of themselves as though they haven’t been alone in a room together for quite some time. Yes, the story is about two sisters from the same family, however, they are not bound by blood; Susan is adopted. Instead these two women are bonded together by a mutual desire to belong and to be loved: “what do you want?” Kate asks Susie.

Horwitz commissioned Jon Keevy to write a piece loosely inspired by true events in her family. In typical ‘Keevy’ fashion his words alone are able to transport you to worlds and memories so clear they could be your own.

The last time I saw Horwitz performing Keevy’s words was in the highly acclaimed A Girl Called Owl and she immediately enchanted me as an actress. She has an immensely charismatic pull, a slight darkness in her smile and the ability to be painfully truthful in her performance. Not only does Briony capture the tenacity, and strength of her Susan, but also she balances her with deep vulnerability and the hindering ‘outsider-ness’ Susan carries with her.

Jazzara Jaslyn photo by Nardus Engelbrecht

Jazzara Jaslyn photo by Nardus Engelbrecht

This was my introduction to Jaslyn, recently graduated, which felt a worthy partner to Horwitz. She made her Katelyn feel as though she was harboring a ball of fire deep in her chest and a whip of sarcasm and cheap jokes was her weapon of choice. Despite being contained within the four corners of her hospital bed, Jaslyn’s emotional and vocal range was able to keep us engaged.

Every Beautiful Thing was directed by Tara Notcutt and if you have followed her work you’ll know she trusts in the ability of her actors and does not hide them within complicated sets and costumes. In the intimate space that is Alexander Upstairs Notcutt gives us a bed, a chair and our imagination. To me, this is theatre at it’s best: raw and unabashed. I did however struggle with the blocking of the piece, each character in a seemingly designated arena of her own. The feeling of stuck-ness and separation may have been representative of how the characters themselves felt, however it did not totally translate for me. There were also moments where the pacing of the exchange between the two felt off. That being said, the dynamics of the emotional journey, as directed by Notcutt maintained my attention for the majority.

What makes Keevy’s writing a beautiful thing is it’s ability to go beyond being a great story told well, but writing that evokes tangible imagery. This, coupled with Notcutt’s direction, allows the invisible barrier that makes us mere observers to fall away and we become participants. It is not a story just of sisters, but of women finding their place in the world, roles they feel they must fill and the human bonds stronger than blood. Every Beautiful Thing is a love story of a different kind, the love story I want to hear more about.