The show is basically a rant in three parts. Let’s deal with the title first:
If. Destroyed. Still. True. Note the full stops.
It’s clearly not a sentence though admittedly vaguely intriguing – if a tad pretentious. What does it mean? Don’t ask. Well, actually, do ask because it’s the title of a play and therefore, I surmise, it is important. So… having sat through the play I can honestly say that I have absolutely no idea what the title means, why it sports such a plethora of full-stops and how it’s relevant to the script.
So to the rant. Set atop an Essex coastline cliff, part one sees John’s uber-rant about what a “sh*t-hole” Southend is, what a “sh*t-hole” where he lives is and what a “sh*t-hole” his life is. Lifelong friend and soul-mate James, who has renounced the “sh*t-hole” and buggered off to university – the cad – responds with a softly-softly rant about how John should get up and f*ck off out of these various “sh*t-holes”. Which doesn’t go down too well – particularly when James’s new girlfriend Charlotte (from Uni – the cad!) interpolates with her own slightly snide, classist, metropolitan elitist – and a tad pretentious – rant. After that, John and Charlotte never speak to each other again.
Which is a bit of a shame because it means Charlotte is absent from part two of what becomes the boys’ private rantathon which sees John, limping after a self-inflicted car accident, and James, now married, having a full-fat bluster-joust about what a “sh*t-hole” … you get the picture. Which brings us on to part three where John is now absent, Charlotte, pregnant, returns (thankfully) and she and James have a dying-embers-of-a-relationship state-of-the-union vociferation mainly about how James has never left the “sh*t-hole” of his mind… or something.
Jack Condon, as John, one has to say, gives a good rant but the character lacks depth and is devoid of any light or shade due to the constraints of the cliché-ridden dialogue. Condon ought to have a word with the writer about
this one feels, who is…er – checks notes – ah yes, Jack Condon. As a full-blown Essex born ranter-in-chief – who strangely does not have an Essex accent – one looks for a redeeming feature however minute – and there it is:
John likes to feed stray cats behind Morrisons and has adopted a hedgehog. Bless.
Theo Ancient gives an altogether more subtle and thoughtfully observed performance as James, but is also constrained by the one-dimensionality of the character and the constantly lurking bear-trap clichés that litter the script. Ancient, like Condon, plumps for a RADA voice rather than an Essex accent: OK, so he’s off at Uni and may have refined his accent a bit but it’s strange that there is no hint of an estuary twang lurking in his glottal stop.
Whitney Kehinde brings a breath of fresh air to the interminable Essex-boy private fulmination game and the production is the poorer when she’s not on stage. Whatever there is to get in the turgid script – and there’s not a lot – Kehinde gets it and she desperately tries to add a spark to what are, frankly, pretty grim proceedings. Not sure how she ended up in this particular diatribe-on-stilts and I imagine she may be thinking the same thing.
Sarah Stacey directs competently but clearly when characters start shouting at each other in the first scene there’s nowhere much to go except keep shouting. The Hope – lovely space that it is – presents a challenge for a
Lighting Designer and Gabriel Finn does his best, but I sat – in the front row – with a spot straight into my face for the entirety of the show which is never helpful. Composer/Sound Designer Joseff Harris ensures that seagulls flit in-and-out to accompany the action along with the sound of surf and waves.
Set and Costume Design is by Anna Kelsey – which brings us to the other great conundrum alongside the mysterious title. After the show, I was asked: “What was the large toadstool for?”. Yes, amongst the grass and cliff-top plants springs a giant red-and-white-striped toadstool-shaped protrusion which characters at various times pat, stroke, sit upon and finally lay offerings around like some kind of Essex-style Delphic oracle. At one point it’s referred
to as a rock but I assume it’s representative of the Southend Dreamland amusement park which is referenced in the script – though strictly speaking Dreamland belongs to Margate. Presumably, Dreamland/Giant Red-striped Toadstool is the antidote to the all-pervading “sh*t-hole” that everyone hates and wants to escape – though it’s a bit of a stretch and dare I say? – a tad pretentious. Still, it lights up quite nicely at the end of the show: well done Gabriel.
Review by Peter Yates
“But where the fuck have you actually been though? What have you really done? It’s been… I hardly recognise you mate.”
A cliffside hangout. A friendship. A forgotten town.
Summer 2013, a warm evening by the sea. James is home from University with his new girlfriend Charlotte. John, James’ best friend, can’t wait to reunite.
Until they do.
Something is changing, something seismic.
And none of them knows how significant this day will be for the rest of their lives…
A story spanning eight years, If. Destroyed. Still. True. shines a stark light on life between the cracks, and asks what happens when the place you were born can no longer be called home. Identity, class and cultures clash as life pulls childhood best mates apart. We bear witness to what we stand to lose when we cannot truly communicate, and the lengths to which we must go to find peace…
If. Destroyed. Still. True. is the debut production from JAWBONES Theatre, telling the epic stories in everyday lives.
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Content warning: refences to suicide, and discussions of class, race and sexuality
IF. DESTROYED. STILL. TRUE.
by Jack Condon
directed by Sarah Stacey
designed by Anna Kelsey
The Hope Theatre,
207 Upper St
London N1 1RL
26th April -14th May 2022