We’re at a confessional to hear the desperate secrets of young Kate…who is shuffling miserably round and round at the centre of the Roundabout Theatre’s circular stage. What ever she has done, she is so ashamed of herself that she reckons we will end up hating her for it. The irony is that her character is so richly drawn that I, for one, felt my heart going out to her.
Playwright Simon Longman is a Pentabus protégé who grew up in leafy Ledbury. The last play I saw of his, ‘Milked’, was about farming. Now he’s turned his attention to urban ills, exploring, with incredible humour, the sorts of sordid issues social workers face on a daily basis. The result is the most entertaining and humanly-warming, ‘bleak’ play I have seen in years. You can’t hate Kate, because you sympathise completely.
The three young actors, who bounced around the same space a few days ago doing a kiddies’ play, have roared up through the gears for this. Rarely have I seen such immaculate team work.
Katherine Pearce is the surly, gobshite, ring leader Kate … who fully recognises the dead-end lives they all face in a town which offers few prospects to teenagers. “Towns like this are for leaving” she says. But she’s saddled with a dying dad she must care for. The only achievable escape is to nick some of his morphine tablets and wash them down with white cider.
Her mates are in similar holes. Charlotte O’Leary plays Sam, a school-girl shop- girl, who is abused by her parents and resorts to carrying her baby sister around in a sports bag, so she doesn’t suffer the same fate. And Jack Wilkinson really shines this time as the unrealistic, no-hoper Pete, who reckons he would make a good parent if only he could find someone to have sex with. But first the girls have to explain to him the difference between shopping and flirting (though both activities can involve suggestive sausages).
All three are rebels without a clue. They dream that there must be more to life than this and gaze beyond the ring road in hope. As the desperation comes to a head, a car is stolen, with newspaper-headline consequences.
Longman’s script is riddled with acerbically dark humour. It rips along, packed with scandalous scenarios and farcical thinking. The comic rants build beautifully, and you have to admire Longman’s way with words; picking just the right off-the-wall image to turn an innocent idea into a vicious joke and, thus, a smile into a guilty belly laugh.
The dialogue is peppered with ‘language’, but none of it is gratuitous. He’s just opened the lid on three teenager’s brains to see what will come out. And he’s mastered the difficulty of writing repetition, as the kids’ circular arguments just go round and round until we end up where we started. It all feels very authentic…though, as I’ve noticed before, he doesn’t worry too much about how unrealistic a detail might be, if its inclusion helps things along.
What he, his brilliant cast, and director Stef O’Driscoll have created, is a remarkable 80 minutes of vital, intimate, original theatre. I’m struggling to sum it up; but it’s a kind of 21st Century J. B. Priestley, social commentary, ‘circular’ play … on acid.
It’s wickedly funny…and terribly tragic.
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