The Box of Tricks

28 October
Oldham Library

Those of you with siblings know all too well that arguments are an everyday occurrence with varying severity. With my older brother, arguments were fortunately quite tame – name calling, banning me from his room or finishing off the box of Coco Pops so I was left with boring Corn Flakes, and adding insult to injury by stealing the free gift as well. But in soaps and stage dramas there are more dramatic situations – ‘you slept with my girlfriend, ‘you killed our mum’ or ‘you stole the inheritance’. Between all reality and fiction there are so many situations where you can fall out with your brother and hold a grudge for years. The question is, can forgiveness ever come too late?

When they were younger, Mike and Carl were as close as brothers can be. Through their difficult childhood, Mike becomes a parent to Carl and tries to protect him from hurtful situations to give him a chance “to really make something of himself”. But when Carl dies in an accident, Mike is practically dragged back for his funeral and refuses to talk about him. Mike and Carl used to be brothers. What happened?

Written by Richard Brady and Stephen M Hornby, The Box of Tricks was first featured in 24:7 Theatre Festival back in 2014. The production was voted for both the Vicky Allen’s Memorial Award and the Audience Choice Award, with no surprise as to why. Brady and Hornby weave a piece of writing that is moving and honest, but also funny.

The piece comes with some challenges for its actors, particularly scenes where the brothers play their younger selves. The opening scene sees Mike (Sam Thompson) and younger brother Carl (Ryan Thomas) enter the stage and morph from grown men into young boys in a peaceful moment, which is soon disrupted when Mike plays ‘keep away’ with Carl’s colouring book. Kids eh? Adults playing children can split an audience, especially if it’s not done well. Rest assured that this isn’t the case with The Box of Tricks cast, especially with the directing talents of Helen Parry and movement director Ceris Faulkner. The collective efforts between directors and actors have paid off in creating roles that are authentic and serious. Well, as serious as two young boys can be.

Ex-Coronation Street star Judy Holt plays the brothers’ mothering Auntie Pat, who desperately seeks the root of Mike and Carl’s division. Holt is a perfect fit for this role. Thompson is incredibly tactile in his role as Mike, present throughout and given the difficult task of seamlessly switching through the present day to his younger years, which he accomplishes exceptionally. Ryan Thomas is a recent graduate of ALRA and one to watch, he has maturity beyond his years with brilliant control of his body and vocal work, demonstrated particularly well in the child scenes.

The Box of Tricks is a witty piece of work with a natural flow and a brilliant ability to make you forget how annoying siblings can be. Yes, Chris, I forgive you, but you owe me a cereal box toy.

Kate Morris