Theatre Review: Horne’s Descent

Recently I was invited to watch Horne’s Descent, the new play from Nina Atesh at The Old Red Lion in Islington. Having seen Nina’s plays before and having the pleasure of working with her myself, I had high hopes for this piece. Not only because Nina’s work is of such a high standard, but because this is a play that features gothic set pieces, occultism and a dash of horror – some of my favourite things!

Two men and two women in 1920s attire look at the camera stoically. Publicity photo for Horne's Decent courtesy of Bethany Monk-Lane.

There are some big reveals in this play especially around the last 5 minutes or so, and to detail that would definitely spoil the experience. So this review will be as spoiler free as I can be, I really don’t want to give anything away on this one.

Horne’s Descent is set in 1920s England and takes place in the lavish home of the eccentric Etta Florence (Cici Clarke). Newly ordained priest, Peter Horne (Alexander Hackett) is invited to Etta’s house by childhood friend Albert Palmer (Magnus Gorden). Peter believes he has been invited to resolve a past secret, however Albert has invited him there to meet his soon-to-be fiancé, Etta’s niece; Mary Florence (Bethany Slater). The entire play is set in Etta’s home and focuses on the shifting dynamics between the characters. Etta’s fascination with Peter and religion, Peter and Alberts strained relationship and Mary’s seemingly playful interactions.

Two women sitting looking up and smiling at a man who is leaning down between them. Publicity photo for Horne's Decent courtesy of Bethany Monk-Lane.

What I loved about Horne’s Descent was that on the surface, we have Peter Horne; a soldier turned priest who has a dark past, who (we can ascertain from the title – so I’m not giving anything away) we may witness descend into wicked ways, or perhaps madness. But the play is about so much more. In a tight 60 minute run time, we explore themes and commentary as diverse as the nature of good and evil, free will, the relevance of religion, sexuality, the futility of war and the class system. This is what I found and there may well be more to discover for other audience members. That is an incredible amount to touch on, but with Nina’s skilled writing, these themes are cleverly woven into the play and you don’t really think about them until it’s over. On the way home, I kept thinking about the meaning of different things and how they could be interpreted. Extremely clever writing to make me think so deeply.

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Horne’s Descent also benefitted from a superb design. The set, costumes, sound and lighting, all evoked such a strong sense of place, it was easy to get lost into the moment. The Old Red Lion stage is quite compact, and the set that was achieved was remarkable. Period pieces that evoke the time and place, and other more subtle hints where your imagination fills in the blanks. This was easily the best set I have seen of any play I have watched at The Old Red Lion and set and costume designer Miranda Cattermole must be applauded.

Two men in a lounge wearing 1920s attire. Publicity photo for Horne's Decent courtesy of Bethany Monk-Lane.

All four actors were fantastic, each playing their roles perfectly. It was easy to empathise with the characters and I felt genuinely moved at moments of tenderness, and uncomfortable in the frequent moments of tension. It was a remarkable thing to witness the pain and sadness of some characters juxtaposed with the glee and intrigue of the others. Alexander Hackett’s unravelling priest, Magnus Gorden’s broken friend, Cici Clarke’s mysterious host and Bethany Slater’s innocent fiancé worked wonderfully together. It’s also testament to the expert director hands of Chloe Cattin, who manages to keep the story moving forward and around the set in an incredibly engaging way, utilising the full space in a very natural way; again adding to the convincing effect of a small 1920s party.

Horne’s Descent is a prime example of how good fringe theatre can be. I was absolutely hooked, even before the play started, soaking up the atmosphere presented to us. The highly skilled actors perfectly fit the wonderful writing of Nina Atesh, and the whole thing was steered to success by Choe Cattin. Although the run at The Old Red Lion has finished, I have heard whispers that a new run could be being planned… If you get the opportunity to see Horne’s Descent, I highly recommend. I cannot wait to see what is next for this team.

4/5

Keep an eye on the Pither Productions web page for any news of upcoming shows. 

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