Till the Stars Come Down

Reviewer's rating

Upon crossing the threshold into the Dorfman Theatre, one might initially feel a sense of trepidation, given the inherent challenges of staging a production in the round. Yet, under the adept direction of Bijan Sheibani and his team, any reservations quickly dissipate as the space is masterfully transformed, effortlessly enveloping the audience within the narrative. A rotating fixture has cleverly been put in the centre to add a further element of definition, so no matter where you are sat, your visibility of each individual character is not tarnished. This is a must, for the characters themselves all fit perfectly into the plot, with each dynamic as convincing as the next.

Against the evocative backdrop of the once-thriving coal mining towns of the East Midlands, Beth Steel skilfully pays homage to the rich history through nuanced references artfully embedded within the script. These references not only serve as historical touchpoints but also contribute to the narrative’s depth, enriching the plot with layers of meaning and cultural resonance.

Sylvia (Sinéad Matthews), one of three sisters, is getting married to Marek (Marc Wootton) – a hardworking Polish immigrant. The play explores various scenes surrounding their wedding, from getting ready to after party celebrations.

Lorraine Ashbourne, portraying Aunty Carol, and Alan Williams, embodying the role of Tony, delivered performances that truly stood out. Both actors adeptly brought their distinct personas to life, skilfully navigating through a spectrum of emotions that felt both raw and whimsical. In their portrayals, Ashbourne and Williams went beyond merely interpreting characters; they breathed authenticity into their roles, adding layers of complexity with commendable detail and talent. While Beth Steel’s script undeniably presented intriguing characters, it was the actors’ skilful execution that elevated these characters, turning them into vibrant and memorable entities on the stage.

Initially, one might think this is simply a comedy – and although laughter from the audience was at points exigent, the depth of the story is so much more. In reality, the cleverly interwoven comedic one-liners serve as more than just humorous reprieves—they act as catalysts, endowing the characters with a likability that becomes instrumental in navigating the more profound themes. It is through the judicious use of humour that the audience develops an affectionate connection with the characters, rendering the exploration of weightier subjects all the more impactful.

This play underscores the working class in the North perfectly – through all aspects of theatre (dialogue, costume design, acting) – inspiring a deep appreciation for the fortitude of English culture. It also tackles issues of racism and bigotry, especially in regard to migration and jobs, a key issue in today’s political landscape. A standout line being: “You need to decide if you are victim or superior, because you can’t be both.”

Overall, the plot development is surprising, Beth Steel definitely knows how to write a good play. But the production is what stands out, its well thought out simplicity draws the audience into the story – allowing for the acting to take centre stage. Rightfully receiving a standing ovation, there was tears in the audience and chills all around. 

Venue: Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre 

Until Saturday 16th March 2024

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including 20-minute interval)

Playwright: Beth Steel

Director: Bijan Sheibani

Cast includes Lorraine Ashbourne, Lucy Black, Lisa McGrillis

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan