Review: Hasland Theatre Company triumphs in On The Shore of the Wide World

Hasland Theatre Company presents On The Shore of the Wide World:'Back: Rob Dean (playing Charlie Holmes), Ann Hawkswood (Ellen Holmes), Olivia Brooks (Alice Holme) and Steve Cowley (Peter Holmes).'Front:-  Dylan Howells (Christopher Holmes) and Joseph Higton-Shirt (Alex Holmes).
Hasland Theatre Company presents On The Shore of the Wide World:'Back: Rob Dean (playing Charlie Holmes), Ann Hawkswood (Ellen Holmes), Olivia Brooks (Alice Holme) and Steve Cowley (Peter Holmes).'Front:- Dylan Howells (Christopher Holmes) and Joseph Higton-Shirt (Alex Holmes).

Sometimes you watch a play which challenges misconceptions that amateur theatre productions are cosy and safe.

It’s a bold company which takes an audience out of its comfort zone and immerses it in a tale which is disturbing and littered with the f-word.

So bravo to Hasland Theatre Company for having the guts to do just that in this week’s production of Simon Stephens’ award-winning On the Shore of the Wide World.

The title gives nothing away so it rests on the shoulders of the cast to bring to life the story of a northern family’s hopes and dreams being dashed on the rocks of fate and despair.

Powerful acting by 11 performers and skilful direction by Nicky Beards makes the piece feel so unsettling, as though your heart has been ripped out and torn to shreds. But like a cardiac surgeon fitting a replacement organ, it ends on an upbeat note by offering the glimmer of a better life ahead.

The staging at Hasland Playhouse is inspired and reflects the modern aspect of the play. Bridge-like structures on either side give an industrial feel to the piece and look like they have been made out of giant pieces of Meccano bolted together while cubes and a modern table serve as meeting place for the generations to come together in the middle of the stage.

Best of all is the giant screen at the back on which moving images are projected, including a motorway and a train pulling out of a station. An image of a railway bridge in Stockport which closes Act One has been shot at such an angle that it looks three-dimensional while a view down a hospital corridor in Act Two gives a sense of tunnel vision.

But these are mere trappings for the real heart of the play which is the cast who wring every ounce of emotion out of scenes of tragedy, illness, assault, suspicion, clandestine romance and enduring love.

Outstanding characterisations from Steve Cowley as the hard-working dad whose family life goes down the pan as fast as he sinks a can of beer, Olivia Brooks as his heartbroken wife drawn into a platonic relationship with the most unlikely of suitors, Joseph Higton-Shirt as their eldest son who escapes dreary Stockport for the bright lights of London, Heather Davis as his flirty, bubbly girlfriend and Dylan Howells as the hormonally-charged youngest son.

Throw in an alcoholic, wife-battering grandad (a powerful performance from Rob Dean) and his helpless victim (Ann Hawkswood) and you have a production to rival anything that you’ll see on the professional stage at a fraction of the cost.

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to see On the Shore of the Wide World at Hasland Playhouse until Saturday, May 17...but don’t forget your hankie.

GAY BOLTON