Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Julia Pattison
Theatre Correspondent
4:06 PM 22nd February 2024

A Song For Ella Grey

The company of A Song for Ella Grey
Photo: Topher McGrillis
The company of A Song for Ella Grey Photo: Topher McGrillis
This new production from Pilot Theatre, A Song for Ella Grey, is based on David Almond’s young adult novel, adapted for the stage by Zoe Cooper, and directed by Esther Richardson. I recently read the novel and admire playwright Zoe Cooper’s adaptation of this innovative book, which, working most cooperatively with other creatives, has come wonderfully to life through music, direction, design, and performance. Clear evidence of this was seeing the enthralled faces of a group of students sitting near me and my guest throughout the production.

All of David Almond’s novels are embedded with a really strong and unique sense of place; you could almost smell the sea at the Northumbrian coast, and the piece clearly captured the setting of the North East. This was a magical retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, full of music, sound, and storytelling, with the talented five members of the cast drawing us into this tale of modern friends and ancient forces.

Claire (Olivia Onyehara) and her best friend Ella Grey (Grace Long) were ordinary kids from ordinary families in an ordinary world. Along with their classmates Angeline (Beth Crame),Sam( Amonik Melaco), and Jay (Jonathan Iceton), they faced exam pressures, fell in and out of love, played music and danced, stared at the stars, yearned for excitement, and had parties on the beautiful beaches of Northumberland. Grace Long was excellent in her role, with the other four members of the cast multi-roling with ease and being most convincing in each of those many roles; the ensemble narration, too, was most effective and added to the rhythm and flow of the play, along with superb movement (Ayesha Fazal).

Ella represented Eurydice, and the video projections, music, and imaginative lighting really added to the atmosphere as well as the sense of location, with Orpheus being visible in silhouette but not seen, which added to his mystery.

Slowly but surely, the lighthearted, teenage fun evaporated and was replaced by a dark and frightening world, ending in tragedy but leaving the remaining teenagers older, wiser, and more prepared for the adult world they were about to enter.

Verity Quinn’s set design reflected those two worlds brilliantly: soft duvets and white curtains representing the hopes and dreams of teenage years, then stark, dark islands to signify the harsh realities of having to grow up.

Pilot Theatre has successfully captured the poetic writing of David Almond and has given the story wings to soar on stage (the recorded music woven into the tale was spine-tingling), enchanting all who experience this mesmerising production.

A Song For Ella Grey Age 13+ is on at York Theatre Royal until February 24th 2024