Caught amidst the London riots of six years ago, a budding teenage reality star loses sight of his little brother. As the hours stretch to days and Elijah is nowhere to be found, the consequences ripple through his family, his school, and his community. Has Elijah been taken, has he run away… or is the truth more sinister still?
Youth theatre company Shadow Syndicate are known for bringing devised work to Buxton, but this year they've gone for a script from Fringe-First-winning playwright Ryan Craig. Craig's writing touches on many big themes: the lure of celebrity, the seductiveness of tragedy, and the way we change our minds about people once they're gone. But he tackles more commonplace topics too, from the balance of power between siblings to the drama of two women chasing the same man, and Shadow Syndicate's talented young actors find plenty to explore amidst this tangled net of relationships and rivalries.
The stand-out performance for me comes from Alex Doran – who, at 14, is also one of the younger members of the cast. Playing Elijah, the script calls on him to be a "lost puppy"; he masterfully captures a mix of optimism and vulnerability, and I felt I knew his character within seconds of his arrival on the stage. Irene Ebeye drives much of the plot as Grace, and segues ably from a mildly disconcerting opening – smiling through the pain a little too easily, enjoying the limelight a little too much – to a far more disturbing vision of manipulative self-absorption.
Seanie Greenwood delivers some entertaining cameos, filling the stage with sassy attitude, while Alissia Di-Cosmo has a lot of fun playing the bitchy, pretentious, two-faced Becky. But in truth the whole cast are excellent, and they all come together for some well-worked physical ensemble sequences evoking the confusion and adrenaline of the riot night.
The few issues I have are mainly with the script. Some of the lines are unnaturally eloquent – who, in a moment of crisis, would ever say "the air was thick with threat"? – and the conclusion is a paradox, both all-too-clearly foreshadowed and insufficiently explained. But there's a dark humour underpinning a lot of the dialogue, and a clever twist towards the end, as we realise just why and where this story is being told.
The sense of portent planted at the start is skilfully maintained for the whole of the hour, aided by some sparing but effective sound design. Overall then, it's another success for Shadow Syndicate, who've shown the same flair in adapting another playwright's work as they do when they're staging their own. We Lost Elijah is well worth seeing – both as a glimpse of future talent, and in its own right, as an intriguing, disturbing contemporary story.