Review: A Thousand Shards of Glass, Albany Theatre

“You catch a glimpse of the horizon…”

Some performers announce their presence with a bang, wrestling their way into my affections, but others just creep up on you and so it was with Lucy Ellinson last year. She broke my heart out of nowhere in Oh, The Humanity, did so again and then some in The Trojan Women and proved an exceptional game show host earlier this year at the Bush. So the chance to see her in a solo show, and to cross off a theatre I’d never been to in Deptford’s The Albany, was a no-brainer.

A Thousand Shards of Glass describes itself as ‘a surround-sound action adventure which happens mostly in your head’ and as we enter the room, we’re urged not to hold on too tightly to what we’re about to see but to lightly embrace its dreamlike qualities and just feel it. The staging instantly nods to the unique quality of the show: a ring of chairs – each performance is just for 30 people – surrounds a circle of lights on the floor and that’s it. A pair of portable speakers that offer up aural cues are the only props and the rest is conjured up by Ellinson’s dancingly poetic journey through Ben Pacey’s text and the twists and turns of our own imaginations.

Trying to offer a synopsis feels wrong somehow – the intimacy of the experience means that even people sat next to each other could be taking entirely different things away from it, so much of the performance acts as a springboard into one’s own internal landscape. But to try and give a sense of the piece, Lucy (the character) takes on the role of resistance fighter after diagnosing serious problems with the world she is living in and a thriller ensues which ricochets from the frozen wastes of the Arctic to skyscrapers, helicopters and the bustling streets of a Cairo bazaar and beyond. Lewis Gibson’s music and sound design works wonders in suggesting the rich diversity of the surroundings and altogether, there really is a hushed sense of magic in the air.

Though inspired by graphic novels and insurrectionist texts, the nearest reference point I can find is of the fantastical worlds that Hayao Miyazaki conjures up in his animated films. There’s always a quirkiness, a strangeness as to exactly what where when how but ultimately, it really doesn’t matter – Lucy is always on hand with a reassuring smile, a kindly look, a hand on the shoulder. It’s quite remarkable how she manages this without ever seeming trite or twee but there is no doubting that Ellinson is a performer with a magnificently sure grasp of her talent and its deployment.

From the non-sequitur-filled conversation she makes as she seats each audience member individually, to the gentle directness of her approach which folds us all into the storytelling – I was the first person she spoke to directly at this performance and I’ve never felt more special – one gets the feeling she could continue to weave this glimmering web of stories for hours on end, such is its ineffable appeal which calls back to an almost childlike sense of potential for carrying out adventures in the mind. The fragmentary, ephemeral nature of the piece means that its charms may prove too elusive for some but to me, it was proof positive that stories don’t always have to have a beginning, a middle and an end to utterly transport you into a place of wonder.

Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 23rd April and tours to The HUB, Leeds and Mayfest in Bristol in May
Photo credit: Chris Keenan

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