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It could be considered something of an anomaly for the title character of a play not to feature at all. But that’s the crux of His Friend Ed; he doesn’t exist.
This original LUTG production was written by Jack Brayshaw, and was in fact his debut to the main stage. You wouldn’t have been able to tell, as the dialogue was wonderfully crafted and showed no signs of awkward prose. Directing duties were taken up by Ffion King in addition to Brayshaw, and introduced a slightly novel viewing experience (in the eyes of this uneducated author at least) in comparison to the standard seated performances.
The promenade element meant that the audience remained stood for its entirety, shifting between settings and providing a whole different perspective. It felt as if we were actually standing in on the family and friends as their slightly awkward and dysfunctional lives were unravelled. As if we were flies on the wall, gaining an insight into another family.
Ed is only realised via the protagonist Henry (Aidan Blakey), and it’s his imaginary friend that the whole play revolves around. Blakey captured the innocence of a young child having a fantasy friend perfectly, albeit still latching onto this make-believe 20 years later. This all boils down to his girlfriend Amy (Jess Radomska) hosting an intervention to finally bring an end to this nonsense once and for all.
Our intuition that Henry’s insistence on his buddy’s existence led to bullying in the past was confirmed through a short flashback midway through the play, and whilst the segue did serve an important purpose, one can’t help but feel that something more could’ve been made with this scene. It did strengthen the character of Henry’s mother Janet (Molly Hirst), but it could’ve dug a little deeper into Henry’s childhood too. Janet crudely slagging off bully Robbie’s family was funny and drew a great reaction from the crowd, but perhaps overshadowed the emotional potential for the scene.
The fact that this was an original play meant that each actor was able to put their mark on their role. Hirst exaggerated Janet’s overly-attached mother stereotype so much, but only helped to pull her part off tremendously. They may not have been completely unique frameworks for characters, but they were strong nonetheless. As said, Henry and his friends Alex and Dan (James Grant and Tom Smith respectively) were convincing as childish adults, particularly Alex and Dan with their inability to ever say the right thing.
Radomska had the hardest job of them all, as her character seldom served to trigger laughs. She held and released most of the aggression and frustration floating around in the play, so whereas Janet often captured the spotlight with witty and irreverent remarks, Amy had to absorb all of the stupidity and unleash it via anger.
Henry’s parents Janet and Mark (Will Evans) were perhaps the strongest, combining inane comments with genuine passion impressively. Janet’s eccentricity was anchored by her husband’s clear frustration with the whole situation. Along with Amy, Mark probably delivered the most realism in the play, though this was inevitably shaded by his wife’s dominance to great effect.
The development of Henry as he at first struggles to accept this problem, to finally accepting help before relapsing is done delicately, and was well stretched out throughout the performance. Apart from the ending, everything about the story was excellent. But the ending felt all too abrupt personally.
It felt like a logical end to the play, but also somewhat unnatural. Conversely, you could argue that the sudden ending meant that the final scene hit home much harder than other elements of the light-hearted play had done. However in my opinion, the play did not feel destined to end at that point.
Nevertheless, it didn’t undo all of the excellent work put in by the whole cast and crew, backstage and onstage. The fact it was originated at Lancaster with a fresh concept made it all the more enjoyable, and although not perfect, was something everyone involved with should be immensely proud of.