Theatre review: Into Thin Air brings story of missing girl to the stage

A scene from Into Thin Air. Photo: fEAST Theatre

A scene from Into Thin Air. Photo: fEAST Theatre - Credit: Archant

It may have been 36 years since she vanished, but memories of their sister Susan are still 'as sharp as sunlight' for Pete and Melvin Kemp in fEAST Theatre's current production, Into Thin Air.

Rob John's marvellous new play moves seamlessly between present-day Norfolk where Pete and Melvin are still coping with their loss, and 1982, as clever, rebellious Susan (fags, Bacardi and condoms in her bag) argues about the Falklands War with her violent Thatcher-supporting father, blags money from her brother for a pair of red patent-leather shoes, and takes up with an older married man.

The pain of the past is brought into focus with the arrival of Jenny (Dawn Finnerty), a journalist writing a book about the ambiguous loss felt by those still looking for closure after a disappearance. As her interviews with the brother's progress, we see in beautifully realised flashbacks the troubling circumstances of the Kemp siblings' childhood, their love for each other, and moments of unbridled joy as they dance to Dexy's Midnight Runners on the radio. Charlotte Price is terrific as Susan in these scenes: defiant, vulnerable, angry and courageous.

The play offers a number of explanations for what happened to Susan (and there are a number of literally red herrings) but, compelling as the mystery is, what remains most powerfully at the end is the dignity and resilience of Pete (Owen Evans) and Melvin (Robin McLoughlin). Pete, a caretaker in both senses of the word, combines his job at a primary school with looking after his brother who has learning difficulties.

The pathos and tenderness of their relationship, its humour and its frustrations, are impeccably played and powerfully moving. However hard things may be, the play tells us, we must, like Melvin, remain hopeful.


*Into Thin Air is being performed at venues around Norfolk, with a final performance at the Aylsham Town Hall on October 20, starting at 7.30pm.

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