Review: Open Theatre’s The Old Lie

An engaging tearjerker of a radio drama.

The Old Lie written and directed by Rory Yeates is a stunning thought-provoking drama that is a must watch (or listen) for not just University of Leeds students, but anyone interested in new fresh theatre with a kick.

Just be prepared going into this, that you may cry.

The play is set in a dystopian society over forty years into the future where climate change has become worse and irreversible, causing World War Three with countries fighting to find the last remaining oil or other sorts of energy left on the planet. The story follows a family and the life of two brothers who have very differing views on the world; one wishes to go fight in the war, the other could think of nothing worse.

The Old Lie is an emotional rollercoaster and was very well written, directed and acted. I found myself wishing at the end it was longer and feeling quite emotional myself. In that short space of time I had become really attached to the whole family and really felt their plights.

Throughout the play the author has hinted at the lack of energy and resources left in the world, telling the audience subtly how different the state of the world looks in 2063. In a conversation between the two brothers Dom states how a textbook from 2056 isn’t “applicable” anymore, and that half the vegetables from the book no longer exist, such as kidney beans. While this may seem like a small possibly insignificant comment, it sets the scene well for what England looks like in the time the play is set. It gives the audience a good idea of how the world may look.

To start with I did get a little confused as to who was speaking and what their names were, however I appreciated how Yeates didn’t just shoehorn this information in for the sake of it; this made the flow of the play and the dialogue much more natural. It’s difficult to establish solid definable characters and their distinct personalities for audiences in live theatre, let alone over radio without any visual aids. In this respect the writer and directors did a fantastic job.

The characters were well established and easy to tell apart from their voices which is testament to the actors amazing work with characterisation. However, whilst all the actors were outstanding the character Sam stood out to me, I was right there with him, which made the end of his story even more heart-breaking. I’m not ashamed to admit I may have shed a tear.

The writer and directors had a monumental task of changing the play to suit radio rather than live theatre. As Rory Yeates had originally written the play to be put on live in the theatre, many things had to be changed last minute for all the cast and crew. The whole team did an excellent job adapting everything to suit the radio, the use of sound effects was superb and well timed which really added to the atmosphere and immersed you in the characters’ world.

At the end of the play, I was left feeling sad and emotional, but also strangely uplifted. I believe one of the main messages that Sam stood for was being brave and doing what you know in your heart is right, even if it may be your undoing. In a documentary called “We are the champions” there is a poignant quote that I believe applies to Sam’s mentality and is maybe something we could all take away with us.

“The Buddhists say that to live is to suffer and to thrive is to find meaning in that suffering. If they’re right, perhaps we should embrace the things that hurt us and walk towards the flames even when our whole world is on fire. Safe in the knowledge that they will burn away only what weighs us down”.

The terrors of war were plain to see in the play and it clearly shows how multiple people can be affected by the brutality of it all and not just the soldiers. But whilst it was tragic how Sam’s story ended, I believe it ended with him doing what he wanted and what he thought was right. And at the end of the day, the most important thing we can do, is be true to ourselves.

The Old Lie is available to watch for free on Youtube at: