The Tab Reviews: Lean

Be warned, this play will bring a tear (or many) to your eye.

Cambridge Drama Lean review

It’s a rare thing to see a Russian cry.

And even rarer to see it happen as a result of said Russian witnessing a one-hour scripted performance.

But Lean, the superb debut of up-and-coming playwright Isley Lynn, managed to cut down and burn to the ground all of my expectations, defences and dignity.

The striking climax of a finalé left me – and, as I was quick to check, at least 40% of the audience – looking like we were ready to crawl into the foetal position, try not to cry, and cry – a lot.

Rose Reade is stunning as the seriously fucked up (and she’s not even the ‘mentally ill’ one) Tess. Credit: Johannes Hjorth


Whilst the first few opening minutes did feel a little melodramatic and wooden as the actors eased into their roles (and, crucially, allowed the audience a peek into the strange and complex relationship between them), very quickly this gave way to a thoroughly well-established, tightly written performance which had the rare ability to make the audience instantly relate to and hang on to every word passed between the two very much antagonistic and fundamentally unlikeable characters.

Whilst the shabby kitchen set (complete with working taps, mind you! And a replacement fridge) did strongly limit the amount of creative use of space the director could come up with, the play did all it could, and made stylised ‘transitions’ to sleep and between meals seem actually surprisingly natural.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth


The performance also stands alone in my memory as having absolutely no noticeable line fumbles or prop malfunctions; the entire thing was polished and ran flawlessly, giving the audience no opportunity to lose interest or engagement with the plot.

The Q&A at the end revealed the precise reason for this play’s simple, uncomplicated, honest beauty – the wealth of real-life experience which helped guide both the writing and direction of the play.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Lean does not strike out to demonstrate the appropriate ways to tackle and deal with eating disorders, or how a picture-perfect relationship undergoes a series of bumps to emerge triumphant and happy.

It is a painfully real, vivid and all too human depiction of life. Simply real life, unpredictable and difficult and complicated as it is.

Go see it. Bring tissues.

74 (Strong First)