Review – Sheep – Hope Street Theatre

FIVE guys wake up in a rented cottage somewhere in the Lake District, surrounded by the detritus of a night fuelled by drugs and alcohol – and the defiled and disfigured body of a sheep.

Sheep is penned by Oliver Back, and it tells the naked truth about the many aspects of masculinity embodied by these five friends, from the virulently toxic to the introspective and fragile. They can see with their own eyes that something unthinkably violent has taken place the night before, but the haze of several hours reliving the excesses of their student days has obliterated all memory of it.

At first they take the tried and tested hair-of-the-dog route but, as the morning wears on and the feel good factor wears off, they gradually begin to concern themselves with what has happened in the past few hours. This leads them towards a series of individual ruminations over the events that have shaped their lives since they were together at university. Now they discover aspects of each other far removed from the impressions they had when they were all simply following the flock.

Al Donohoe, Michael Hawkins, Daryl Holden, Damien Hughes and Charlie Staunton form the strong ensemble cast, and all turn out equally powerful performances. They drift seamlessly between the barely conscious to the profoundly thoughtful, navigating the shifts from comedy to horror with real spontaneity. Director Mike Dickinson has shaped the emotional arc of the work with great care. In the first two thirds, the audience are carried along in the comedy of the situation, and there is a gradual but palpable shift in the atmosphere as the laughter gives way first to nervous sniggers and eventually a stunned silence. There is no single point at which the tone changes, but we know that this is no laughing matter any more.

There are five friends here in this remote cottage, but they have a vague notion that when they arrived here there were six of them. At the beginning of the evening we could see six sheep on the stage, all following and none leading, but as we reach the end of the play’s 90 minute span there is a terrible dawning realisation that perhaps there are no sheep here at all.

This is the 9th outing for Naughty Corner Productions, and somehow it feels like a show they have been working themselves up to throughout their canon of work.

Star rating: 4½ stars

Review by Nigel Smith