In Alex Gwyther’s thriller Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, two teenage boys bunk off school and go on an adventure to Brighton. It’s obvious from the start that the two friends have a complex and potentially unhealthy relationship – and when something terrible happens on the beach, it falls to two frustrated police officers to try and make sense of the day’s events.
Much like the officers, the audience must piece together the clues to work out the real story behind Aaron and Seb’s day trip – and when the final piece of the jigsaw slots into place moments before the play ends, the truth turns out to be as shocking as it is satisfying. I love a well-written thriller that really keeps you guessing, and this play definitely falls into that category.
Many of the characters in Derek Anderson’s production feature only as Big Brother-esque voiceovers, which means all our attention is focused on the story’s three leads. Danny-Boy Hatchard takes control in the first act as Aaron, who’s the mastermind behind the adventure. Outgoing and often very funny, he can also be unpredictable and aggressive when things don’t go his way… and he wields a disturbing amount of power over the naive and socially awkward Seb.
Act 2 abandons the police station and is carried by the excellent Joe Idris-Roberts, who takes us back in time to explore the tender relationship between ten-year-old Seb and his mother Lily, played by Phoebe Thomas. As well as answering a lot of the questions posed by Act 1, this part of the play also leads us into increasingly dark territory (there’s very little laughter to be heard after the interval), touching on themes of domestic violence and mental health as it paves the way for the story’s dramatic conclusion.
A simple set proves no obstacle to the storytelling, with some impeccably timed movement (directed by Jonnie Riordan) helping to build a picture of the characters’ surroundings, and Norvydas Genys’ lighting design keeping the action moving between locations, as well as back and forth in time. There’s also a great moment at the beginning of Act 2, when Lily replaces a photo of herself, appearing on stage as if by magic.
There’s just one niggle for me about the play, namely the decision to set it in the 1980s. This isn’t particularly borne out by the story (I remember just one popular culture reference to Tom Selleck as a relevant movie star), and putting 30 years between the events of the play and its audience suggests they have no relevance today – when in fact the opposite is true.
That said, this is without doubt a compelling and well executed piece of theatre, which grabs our attention from the start and never loses its intensity. With three brilliant performances and a dramatic twist ending, this dark thriller is well worth a visit.
Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is at The Bunker Theatre until 30th September.