Review: Helen, Theatre503

A deeply poignant and profound look at how grief can impact a life, Helen is highly recommended at Theatre503

“I’m trying to get there, I really am”

There’s something deeply profound about Helen, a play that starts off with a death, making a widow out of 40-year-old Helen and robbing 15-year-old Becca of her dad. But rather than your standard play about grief, Hull-based writer Maureen Lennon pushes so much further, examining how that loss can shapes all of the life that comes after it for those left behind, how even decades later with new perspective, it can still hit you like a fresh ton of bricks.

Lennon traces that journey for Helen and Becca over a period of 40 years with elegance and economy. Over a series of short scenes, we skip through all the life events – hospital beds, wedding aisles, birthing suites, care homes, rainy mountaintops – as the pair try, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, to come to terms with their loss, as every corner turned seems to come with a new acute reminder of this ever-totemic figure in their lives.

Tom Bellerby’s production is clearly keenly felt, capturing worlds of feeling in these snapshots of their lives but also able to maintain a clear emotional throughline as the years pass by so rapidly. And under Joseph Ed Thomas’s evocative lighting, Alice Halifax’s striking set design hits a delicious midpoint between functional and expressionistic, personal knick-knacks morphing to formless rocks in this corner space seemingly scythed out of their psyches.

Jo Mousley delivers sensational work as Helen, seeking refuge in bottles of wine until she can eventually find a way of moving on that honours her late husband as best she can. And Chloe Wade draws a powerful journey from Becca’s shocking teenage anger to hard-won middle-aged wisdom, the realisations that come in exceeding the age he ever reached achingly well done and piercingly sad, as that renewed perspective comes to bear, the list of things being missed forever growing.

Poignant without being punishingly tear-jerking (apart from a late diversion into one of my trigger areas), Helen is beautifully written, produced and performed, achieving in less than 90 minutes more than you’d think is possible. Hugely recommended.

Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Danny Kaan
Helen is booking at Theatre503 until 27th May, then Hull Truck Theatre 15-16th June

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