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“Gripping and enthralling” – Reviewing A Song for Ella Grey at Hull Truck Theatre

I was invited to Hull Truck Theatre last night to see a gripping play “A Song for Ella Grey” based on a book by David Almond and adapted for the stage by Zoe Cooper.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but by the end of the evening I had been gripped and enthralled by this production which is based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice myth but with a modern setting. It’s a story of love, the madness of youth and the processing of a friend’s death.

Our story follows five friends studying in year 13. Sam, Angeline, Ella, Jay and Claire. All but Ella go camping on Bamburgh Beach. They hear a distant sound and eventually it gets closer to them. They are mesmerised. Snakes come in from the sea and hide in the dunes and Orpheus makes him/herself known to the group. Claire calls her long-time school bestie up on her phone so that Ella can also hear this mesmerising song. Little do the friends know how this will affect Ella. Ancient forces are about.

I’m not going to tell the entire story as it would spoil it for the viewer, only to say Ella tragically dies. Our friends have to come to terms with the loss of one of their close-knit group and it hits Claire especially hard having known Ella since their first days at school.

The piece is beautifully acted by our players Sam (Amonik Melaco) Angeline (Beth Crame) Ella (Grace Long) Jay (Jonathan Icerton) and Claire (Olivia Onyehara) who also sang some haunting harmonies together. Their energy and enthusiasm drew in the audience. Some played multiple characters, easily switching between them.

The set was simple but effective. In Act one it was white covers over shaped platforms, which represented, the beach, the classroom, the journey to the beach. With bedding quilts brought in for good effect to act as the breeze, the sea or just simply bedcovers. Sheer curtains were pulled across and with the lighting, gave us mysterious shadows and spiritual beings who travelled with Orpheus. In Act two, the white covers were removed to reveal the black platforms reflecting the loss of Ella to her friends.

The music was haunting, sometimes folk, but moved the story along well. Emily Levy being the composer and a special call out to Zak Younger Banks who was the musician for this piece.

The piece is set for younger people, perhaps who have studied the book at school, but was equally entertaining to those of us in the audience who had not seen in the inside of a schoolroom in a few decades. I enjoyed the production and loved the enthusiasm of the cast, their lilting north-eastern accents and their harmonies. Give it a try. It’s worth it.

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