Grey Area by Jonny Peyton-Hill, presented by Homing Bird Theatre, is a heartbreaking but beautiful look at how connections can transform and disintegrate over time. By tracking the bond between Jackson (Peyton-Hill himself) and Peter (Lewis Kennedy) over many years, the play unpacks the intricacies and nuances of queer relationships and mental health.
Though the two characters do start dating, a strength of the play is its handling of the situation where an ex becomes the one person you can rely on.
Peyton-Hill’s writing and performance are delicate and heartfelt, getting to the core of the difficult feeling of hating someone you love, the constant flux state of wanting to pull someone close but needing to push away. Jackson remains the heart of the show, providing us with well-placed humour and someone willing to be open about his feelings, a necessary foil against the closed-off Peter.
Kennedy’s performance doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of mental illness, sometimes very ugly, which is a real strength and sets this play apart from other shows dealing with mental health. Peter is, at times, very unlikeable, which comes to a head when Jackson tries to take care of a very drunk Peter, only for him to start doing balloons. Nevertheless, it speaks to a specific, destructive manifestation of mental illness, often debilitating, which is so important to acknowledge.
The brilliant set, designed by Iona Curelea, consists of four clothes rails, each covered in a taut weaving of red and green wool, with various pictures and objects hanging from them. They function as walls, allowing the actors to change the shape of the stage with dynamic, dance-like movements, choreographed by Kiren Virdee. We learn the meaning of the strings in the final scene, which really brings the whole show together with beautiful imagery, but I really wish this could have been used and explored further throughout the show to make the final action even more impactful.
The show jumps erratically over a course of 7 years, which effectively at showed how quick the highs and lows of mental illness can get. However, at times it left me feeling disoriented as to the timeline, unclear whether it was moving chronologically or not.
Homing Bird Theatre have a special show on their hands, with some true sparks of a fresh take on mental illness. It’s a story which needs to be heard and with some further polishing could be truly outstanding.
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.
This review was written by a participant of the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme in partnership with Theatre Weekly. For more information about the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme, and all of our 2023 participants, please visit: https://vaultfestival.com/new-critics-programme/