The Ladder (Review)

By Tobias Chalcraft

If you seek a production that will convert procrastination and grief into motivation, look no further than THE LADDER at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

This intimate, absorbing & emotional show is a real treat for drama fans. The use of excessive volumes, audience interaction and unorthodox casting leaves you engaged and entertained for the duration of this Brechtian-styled performance.

Simple props, including a laptop, water bottle and stationery, provide the cast with a beneficial set of tools to add to their presentation – this includes the use of a water bottle as a spanner in a game which ends up with serious repercussions. Microphones are also scattered around the stage, to allow lines to be delivered with emphasis and boldness, but also to provide a cosy, podcast-like atmosphere at times.

On reflection, the introduction to THE LADDER really sticks out. ‘Emerging’ actor Hugh Hughes, portrayed by Shôn Dale-Jones, starts off by entering the audience to greet us and shake our hands, whilst we are unaware that the show has even started. It is this interaction that ensures we continue to root for him, whether that is by laughter or stunned silence. This is returned by Hughes, who shares his thoughts and feelings like we are imaginary companions.

Initially, the casting of Julian Spooner as the Father is interpreted as comedic, due to the fact he is visibly younger than his on-stage son. However, Spooner’s acting soon captivates hearts and minds as the audience develop empathy for a character that has faced a broken family, illness and a livelihood lost at the hands of urbanisation in the late 1900s.

The layers of an onion are perhaps inferior to the quantity of sub-plots within THE LADDER, and these expertly intertwined stories are tied up by three main events: Hughes’ fascination with Greta Thunberg and the Youth Climate Strikes, his writer’s block and the death of his Father, as a result of him falling off a ladder.

This web of plots provides THE LADDER with its ability to confidently convert unpleasant and relatable behaviours, such as grief and procrastination, into pure motivation to do better in the world. This created a big struggle in reviewing this show, as the simplicity of being absorbed into the storyline maintains a high level across the production – which at one point will allow you to experience joy, sympathy and inspiration in a matter of minutes.

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