Too Much World At Once

“A thought-provoking journey challenging today's society and the issues we face as humans”.

Box of Tricks Theatre Company brings Billie Collins’ coming-of-age story ‘Too Much World at Once’ to Theatr Clwyd for a short two-day-stint. The story focuses on Noble, a social outcast who struggles with abandonment, isolation and broken-down relationships with his family. On his fifteenth birthday, Noble wakes up feeling different and has abilities to form into a bird. Unbeknown to Noble why he has this ability, he has a desperate desire to reach his sister, who is situated thousands of miles away working with the British Antarctic Survey. Whilst these unexpected events take place, Noble finds solace in his unlikely friendship with school misfit, Ellis.  

There are many themes that emerge from this production – family breakdowns, isolation, mental health issues, sexual identity, climate change and the desire to fit in. With such a complex storyline, it sometimes felt a little overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. However, I feel that the exploration of many different themes worked well in this play as it gave the diverse audience something to relate to and allowed us all to resonate with certain parts of the story. The storyline was also effective in giving audience members the opportunity to question their own role in society and the parts we play within it.  

Due to Theatr Clwyd’s recent renovation project, the production took place in the temporary big top tent. This location worked perfectly as it gave an intimate and personal feel to the production, and as a member of the audience, I felt that I was fully part of Noble’s story. The stage was set up quite simply with tables, chairs and crates that were moved around by the cast themselves. Whilst the staging was fairly simple, it was the four actors who moved the story around beautifully, narrating lyrically which had a powerful impact on the audience. There was good use of sound effects and lighting to amplify the tension and atmosphere – with the added bonus of a storm going on outdoors, it really made the production feel tense and uneasy.  

There was a small cast size of only four members, but they work incredibly well together to bring the powerful story to life. One thing that I really enjoyed about this production was that throughout the story, there was a spotlight on each of the characters which gave good opportunity for character development. Paddy Stafford who portrays Noble has perfectly encapsulated the ability to be tentative and withdrawn in a society in which his immediate surroundings, support networks and the climate are drastically falling apart. He perfectly demonstrates his distress throughout his strained relationships particularly with his mother (Alexandra Mathie) and sister, Cleo (Evie Hargreaves). This until he meets flamboyant and larger than life, Ellis (Ewan Grant) and in which you see an almost instant change within his demeanour and Stafford cleverly captures this. 

Ellis portrays a real self-confidence and self-acceptance throughout; he knows that he is ‘different’ and takes pride in it – what he struggles with is that he feels like he is waiting for “society to catch up”. Ewan Grant has a real likeability, and it shines throughout, I found myself rooting for him to find a true friendship with Noble. Grant has such a powerful stage presence that I felt instantly drawn to his character and I felt that his character development was most impactful. Hargreaves shows a real vulnerability within her character – she feels uncapable and unconfident within the vital role she is playing within her research work. Throughout, there are hints towards Cleo suffering with mental health issues and this led to her desires to escape her familiar surroundings. Hargreaves puts a lot of emotion into her performance and perfectly encapsulates the many struggles of mental health issues. Mathie plays her part well, conveying a serious loneliness in her life and her despair at not being able to connect with her children.  

During the first act, the story is paced well with important dialogue and the narration between scenes feeling meaningful and contributing well to the story. During the second act, there are a few scenes that seemed to come to a halt and felt like they dragged on slightly too long. I think this led to a few missed opportunities for some of the overall themes to have been explored further. Overall, this production is a thought-provoking journey challenging today’s society and the issues we face as humans. It leads to having many important questions and discussions of what roles the younger generations can play in contributing to a better future. 

This show was reviewed on the 11th April 2023.

Reviewed by Vicky Humphreys

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