Imagine one day, through the post, you receive a sealed envelope. Inside the envelope, there is an address to a house somewhere in central London, and a request that you attend at a certain time. Would you go? That’s what the characters of writer Will Jarvis and director Niamh Smith’s play Sealed did. They went. Why? Well, that’s the fundamental question that Jarvis attempts to answer in an hour and half of edge-of-your-seat drama.
You wonder what to expect from a play which, as the programme said (that I found, in a sealed envelope, waiting for me on my chair), is an “exploration of human interaction”. The audience were sat on the top floor of the Boston Tea Party in town. I sat myself on the very edge of the second row, and as the lights dimmed, Amy (played by Lila Boschet) walked up right next to me, smoking a cigarette. With lovely wide eyes and a gentle demeanour, her character progressively revealed a thoroughly selfish edge that you don’t expect. Barnaby (Tobias Grace) turns up, and both wonder why they’ve been invited; they seem to know each other, but why they’re awkward remains a mystery of the play.
a deeply personal and philosophical play
It carries on like this in an unexpectedly short first half. Why is Charlie (Jacob Crossley) so angry? Why is Denise (Georgia McKnight) a workaholic and what made her take the time out of her very tight packed schedule to come to this house? Why has Felicity (Dany Payne) put herself in what is potentially a very dangerous situation with a husband and three children back home? And just who is Roxy, (Gabriella Drake) the schoolgirl that turns up at the last second of the first half?
I was immersed in the room. I found myself leaning forward, straining to catch their conversation, every snippet to get a hint at what could be going on. Were any of them responsible for the sealed invitations? No, but they were all guilty of something. I noticed things as the play went on; the lighting, the long shadows being cast on the wall behind the actors, the way that an actor would break a fundamental rule of acting and turn their back to the audience; but it worked. You could never miss what they were saying, what they were feeling. Everyone moved and reacted to one another, their awareness of each other inspiring tension, the insurmountable barrier between them and what they might find behind the sealed door, without a lock, at the top of the house.
But what was perhaps the most spellbinding of all was actor Jacob Hutchings’ interpretation of Edward. Edward misses nothing. The audience missed nothing either; not one clenched fist, or look, or tremor in his voice. Hutchings was mesmerising, and the story in a sense moves away from the sealed door and to his character, and every moment leading up to his shuffled entrance into the house.
Jarvis sets up a deeply personal and philosophical play that follows many paths until reaching the locked door to open it. What becomes apparent is that there are many more doors to open, whether they’re visible or not.