Review: River in the Sky, Hope Theatre

Through a series of wild children’s adventure stories, a couple tries to come to terms with their grief in an unusual and striking play about miscarriage and the loss of a child at the Hope Theatre. River in the Sky is Turn Point Theatre’s debut production. As it tackles incredibly sensitive subjects, this show presents audiences with two parents who are trying to comprehend a “stupid accident” through magnificent and fantastical storytelling. 

While the stories narrated by characters Ellie (Lindsey Cross) and Jack (Howard Horner) are vivid and captivating, but the storytelling itself is a little lacklustre by comparison. The bizarre set sees a couple of asymmetrical blocks plonked in the middle of the stage. The blocks are lit effectively, creating an eerie atmosphere during the stories about fighting big, scary monsters. However, it isn’t until after the show, when I read it in the synopsis in the programme, that I realise that the entire play supposedly takes place in a caravan. 

The story is gripping as it teases us with details and metaphors about the couples’ loss, and the audience strives to understand what happened, why, and what exactly it’s done to their relationship – exactly what Jack and Ellie themselves are trying to understand. However, there is something disingenuous about their stories, first hers and then his. It’s a little too dramatic; too articulate a representation of such an unspeakable loss. Perhaps writer and director Peter Taylor’s inspiration for the play, fear rather than experience, has something to do with that. If it were simply fear that had driven the plot, rather than a weak attempt at conjuring unknowable feelings, I think it would be a more interesting story. 

Cross’ performance is captivating as she commands the concern of both Jack and the audience. Horner’s delivery is impressive too, and his storytelling certainly speaks volumes (perhaps a little too loudly). Their chemistry together on stage makes this show special, as they bring Ellie’s exhilarating fantasy stories to life through narration and movement. 

There is something a little cinematic about the play, as a few Harry Potter references sneak in (always a plus in my opinion) and it gives off a mythical, magical Bridge to Terabithia vibe. River in the Sky seems to push a message about making the truth magnificent, no matter how bad it is, but I think it misses the point that some truths will never not be awful.

River in the Sky is playing the Hope Theatre until 24 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Hope Theatre website.