Although Crushed Shells and Mud is already an emotionally charged script, director Eleri Crossland takes it one step further by adding modern touches, such as a heartfelt soundtrack and short film. In doing so she creates an intense and realistic atmosphere of teenage dreaminess, lust and angst. These thoughtful touches, along with a stellar cast, ensured that Green Door Theatre Company’s production of Crushed Shells and Mud was as enjoyable as a play concerned with its heavy subject matter could possibly be.
The plot revolves around a trio of characters, all of whom were played expertly. When Lydia (Alice Chambers) shows up, Derek (Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker) falls for her instantly. Lydia, however, chooses to go on a date with Vince (Richard Penney) instead, causing tension between the male leads. What ensues is a somewhat predictable but nonetheless moving love story.
Thiagarajan-Walker is an excellent actor – probably the highlight of the play. Chambers did incredibly well in a very difficult role to play; it was hard for us to try to scrape off the layers of projection, and decide who the character really was beneath all of that. The comedy comes across well in this production mainly because the two lead actors are so sharply contrasted. Derek is a pensive wannabe-writer who delights in his beliefs about Lydia being a kind of ‘perfect’ person. But Vince never lets you forget that such unwavering optimism or idealisation is misguided. Vince is wounded by his past and that his viciousness towards Derek and Lydia is chilling and yet utterly believable.
The few complaints I have are actually those to do with the story itself. This was not an original script, so this problem obviously lies beyond the director and producer’s control, although I might question the choice to produce a play so heavily concerned with ‘one big secret.’ This is because the secret, it turns out, is a bit of a disappointment when revealed. Crossland amends this issue to an extent by deciding to avoid attempting a heavy climax around the moment of this revelation, instead choosing to draw out other, less obvious but more moving moments of interaction.
The most profoundly moving moment, for example, is when Derek’s innocence is lost. He realises Lydia has needs and demands of her own and his painful sensitivity and sense of purpose is soon overturned. He can’t help or save her. Later, when Vince’s speech mutates into an angry and aggressive one, we wonder the extent to which Derek might come to replicate his views.
The stage was not cluttered, and the looming presence of a kind of wasteland den – its symbolic value working on a number of different levels – provided a clever centrepiece because, as the play reveals, it is the centrepiece; it is Derek’s writing den, the centre of his imaginations, out of which Lydia seemingly arrives (but crucially does not; his fantasies about her perfection are soon challenged).
The production managed to convey all the brutality and fear of Ben Musgrave’s script, with enough moments of lightness, comedy and affection amidst the darkness and dear. Even if the play sets up a false climax, Eleri Crossland’s production is believable, thoughtful and a challenging but certainly worthwhile watch.
‘Crushed Shells and Mud’ will be formed in Cassidy Quad, St Chad’s College from Friday, 10th March until Sunday 12th March at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Green Door Theatre Company