Sheffield University Theatre Company’s Why We Stay – 6 March 2024, Sheffield University Drama Studio

Review by Claire Taranaski.

Written and directed by SUTCo’s very own Darcey Severne, Why We Stay is an epic three hour horror that more established playwrights may have avoided, but would have struggled to be cut down, making you want to hang on to the ending monologue (I’m not going to reveal who delivered it to avoid spoilers) that was delivered with passion and emotion and the best acting by the person of the show.

It’s hard to review a horror production without giving away spoilers but Why We Stay can be best be described as a Bates or Overlook Hotel for a 2024 student population combining the terrifying hotel where no one can ever leave filled with mysterious long term residents with a realistic look at modern student friendships and our emotions when people leave. It also will make you never want to respond to a personalised flyer.

Whilst the chemistry and talent of the cast performing the group of students felt natural and kept the audience firmly on there sides (special mention to Alec Malkin as Cameron for whom we really felt his heartbreak to what was going on around him and Kirsty Lucas as Sidney a character who anyone who has never quite felt like they fitted in will relate to and whose sweet chemistry and shyness around Abbie Wright as Iris felt realistic) it was the long term residents of the hotel who were my stand out performances of the night.

Top of my list was Patrick James as Silas, a character I would love to have seen more but as the plot developed understood why we didn’t. Coming across as the quintessential psycho who you would avoid if you ever met in a bar, his performance was also mesmerising and reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s Daryl Van Horne in Witches of Eastwick. With a role that grew as the show went on, Joe Edgar was unforgettable as the all knowing bartender; and Emma Starczewski portrayed all three of her parts hauntingly beautifully (my theory that is never proven is that her three characters were all incarnations of the same character) with her musical number and later scream, along with Leila Arbabi’s as Ellie’s scream were both up there with the climatic scream of the 1970s remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

I am excited to see what all three of these superbly talented actors and Darcey as a writer do next.

Behind the scenes, I must also praise Noah Cottle and Symran Basra for the sound and lighting for capturing the eeriness of the setting and the storm and adding to the scares without overly exaggerating them; and Heather Ellis for the set design and horror effects, fitting all aspects of a hotel on stage and leading to interval audience discussions about what the glass was made from. I must also praise whoever came up with the music choices playing quietly in the bar with the likes of “It’s The End Of the World As We know It” and “I Put A Spell On You” subtly capturing the moment whilst gently predicting the future of the characters.

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