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When Atlas Met Tantalus | Bridge House Theatre

When Atlas Met Tantalus, which is written by Tiff Milner and co-directed by Milner and Emily Layton, is a striking and intelligent play about the struggles of being queer in the Victorian period. Incredibly clever writing, brilliant acting and a hauntingly honest plot makes this play a must watch. 

The play unfolds as a conversation between the pompous James Cartwright (Lucas Livesey) and the suspicious Edwin Scott (Simon Christian). After an abrupt and unexpected collision into each other's lives (Edwin was engaged to James's sister Faye), the two clash with their opposing views, social class and different worlds. Their vastly high intense conversation with increasing tension and ever shifting dynamics makes for a gripping watch. The consideration for the characters is juxtaposed by the blunt biting honesty of the horrific treatment and consequences of being found out. 

Both characters are so richly well-written, and are likable in their own rights. They feel familiar from the first impression, yet still manage to remain unpredictable throughout the piece. The underlying themes anchor the conversation in reality and witty comebacks, memorable quotes and piercing truths elevate it to come alive on stage. Milner is an exceptional writer, and each line feels important. The allusions to Greek mythology throughout is powerful and the writing becomes the heart of the show. 

The two performers, Christian and Livesey, are both phenomenal, easily trekking the dialogue heavy story with ease. Christian is equal parts charmingly naive and suspicious, which instantly makes him a complex character that the audience will enjoy rooting for. Whilst his barriers are brought down throughout the play, revealing a softer and vulnerable nature, he also manages to command the room with his observations and is consistently playing two opposing characteristics. Livesey's performance reminds one of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (and this is a compliment), in his precise delivery and tight control of character. Shrouded in mystery and infuriatingly a master at wordplay, he draws the audience in, filling them with humour and intrigue. The slow chipping away of his character, James, is beautifully done. Both characters undergo a significant shift, in a physical and emotional sense, and it's impressive to watch the subtle shifts in the dynamics. However it is the heartbreaking climax that leaves the audience feeling wrecked, with stunning performances by both actors. 

The Bridge Theatre is the perfect venue for the play, with its intimate space and its proximity to a train station. The distant rumbling of trains add to the growing tension of the external world, and the echos (enhanced by the play) allow the words to linger for longer. The set resembles a gentleman's parlour, with the fancy chairs, a fireplace, mantelpiece, woven rug and lamps. A wooden coat box stands in a corner, which is see through and made up only of door frames. A warm yellow light (Caitlin MacGregor) illuminates the stage, with a tinge of growing pink and red as the external world closes in on the characters. The coat box has its own white spotlight when being used. Costumes (Emma Hollows) are used to signify social standing, and character personality, with James Cartwright preferring to lounge in silk dress robes as compared to Edwin Scott's neatly buttoned clothes. 

When Atlas Met Tantalus is a powerful and moving play that invokes deep emotions. A hauntingly beautiful play.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review


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