Thanks to its soulless redevelopment, Spitalfields Market can feel like a pretty grim place to be these days for anyone with a little romance left in their lives. Thank the Lord, then, for plucky Greenhouse Theatre who have rescued one of the units from hipster-branded coffee shop hell and created a home for The Lost Library of Spitalfields Market this Christmas. Was the site-specific performance worth a trip into the cold, dead heart of the new East End, I hear you ask. Oh Yes. Quite definitely. With bells on. In fact, I don’t think I have seen a finer two-hander play all year.
There’s a delicious, charming simplicity to writer and director Oli Savage’s central idea. If you pick up an object, we’re told, in the lost library of the title, you are compelled to tell the story it embodies. As devices go, it is reminiscent of Dr Who’s Tardis. Where, oh author, will you take us next? There’s actually more than a hint of irascible Time Lord to Eoin Lynch’s winning performance as slightly crumpled librarian, Maximilian Crimp too. Crimp is far from pleased when inquisitive young Isla, played by an equally engaging and talented Ronay Poole, enters on Christmas Eve having mistaken his forgotten corner of the market for a common old junk shop. She just wants a present for her mum, so is surprised when she isn’t allowed to touch anything.
Sharing more of the plot is probably a slight spoiler, so look away now if you don’t want to know that after some brief poetic scene-setting, the two initially mismatched characters bond while sharing three tales within the library’s framing device. The first tale is a fairy story worthy of The Brothers’ Grimm but the second two are closer to home and, through them, we learn exactly what draws the two seemingly disparate characters together. Be warned. Superbly written, skilfully directed and exquisitely performed, the revelations, when they come, hit you hard in the ‘feels’.
This, of course, doesn’t happen by chance. Well-drilled and hardworking Lynch and Poole act their socks off while sharing storytelling duties seamlessly throughout. Never still, they wear their responsibilities lightly; navigating humour and tragedy with sufficient skill to have the audience laughing one minute and sniffling the next. A tender exchange between a father and daughter towards the end of the evening even touched your reviewer’s cynical old heart. I was forced to blame dust in the air for a little moistening of the eyes.
Although the overall tone errs towards the melancholy, we are reminded that stories with sad endings do not mean we should stop celebrating stories altogether. Change is possible. The future, worth pursuing. It is pretty much the same point the ghosts make in A Christmas Carol but, rather wonderfully, the message is delivered here anew and invigorated by fresh talent. The Lost Library of Spitalfields Market is every bit as good as any of London’s countless Dickens adaptations. It’s every bit as festive too so why not forego the familiar and find a new story this Christmas?
Written & Directed by Oli Savage
Produced by Greenhouse Theatre
The Lost Library of Spitalfields Market plays at Spitalfields Market until 24 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.