It’s easy to label Matty (James Ferguson) and Aaron (Alex Boxall) as ‘angry young men’, except both on-stage characters in Warped are more nuanced than that, and in the behind closed doors setting of the play, there’s no need for either man to keep up appearances. Matty’s habit of ‘documenting everything’ by way of video recordings on his smartphone says something about how some people are unable to function for very long without their precious phone, while Aaron prefers to have more traditional ways of listening to music (or perhaps he’s just using the equipment that just so happens to be in the room).
A number of objects, including a mask and a sleeping bag, are perfectly lined up in a straight line across the longitudinal performance space, as though they were cones on a playing field for football training. Without giving too much away, each object serves a purpose (sometimes more than one) as the play goes on. Aaron, still in the process of setting up his own protection / mafia group, is invariably the more confident of the two in the opening scenes, with Matty revealing his insecurities about what his new partner in crime demands of him. Matty likes his creature comforts, and Aaron observes the way in which Matty speaks about his (Matty’s) mother; although the play is not about the Kray twins, even if they are explicitly referred to, the bond between the ‘mobster’ and his mother would appear to be as strong and sacred now as it was a generation ago.
The lads are both out to emulate the behaviour of the Krays, even matching their general sense of fashion. I consider ironing shirts perhaps the least interesting aspect of any given week, but there’s a certain dedication to it here that is remarkably riveting to watch. In the atmosphere of the celebratory Vault Festival, Aaron’s stare-downs, also not far removed from that of his mobster idols, give rise to laughter from the audience rather than a sense of feeling a tad intimidated. Then there are the repeated threats to dispense with Matty’s gerbil, to the point where one wishes Aaron would really pick on someone his own size.
At least I think it was a gerbil – my centre front row vantage point and the fact that for some reason the house lights never went down (even when the boys were bedding down for the night) precluded me from whipping out my trusty notebook to jot down such details. Boxall’s Aaron is convincingly an East End thug, though a late twist reveals Matty has grown up remarkably quickly and has learned what he has been taught, and then some. A bedroom scene introduces, albeit fairly briefly, both homosexuality and bisexuality into the picture. Or does it?
Perhaps the production makes use of the available performance space too well – at times it was like watching a tennis match in person, with the two would-be hardmen at opposite ends of the room to each other. The odd line was missed depending on where someone was sat, because of the echoey acoustics of the venue rather than any lack of clarity from the actors. I don’t think the audience got any closer to figuring out quite why there continue to be people like Matty and Aaron (it’s not as if there’s a lack of things to do in the digital era), and there don’t seem to be political motivators at play either.
The play rightly acknowledges how difficult it is to keep secrets well and truly secret in an age of smartphones and tracking devices, whilst also giving much emphasis to the deviousness of both characters in a world where vigilance is key. A slow-burner, this is a full-bodied and fascinating play.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Whether it’s Me Too, toxic masculinity, or the swirling brew of bigotry and intolerance we see on our streets, angry, out-of-control men are back in the headlines. Warped asks, ‘Where does all that anger come from?’
‘By a gloomy East End grave, a dopy fanboy meets a cold-hearted drifter. They yearn to follow in the footsteps of their idols, the Kray twins – but do they have what it takes? And will what’s buried stay buried?’
As well as real, live, living legends, Warped has ghosts, Monster Munch, a gerbil, lush ‘n’ lovely suits, two handsome lost young lads and a trick with a credit card you’ll never forget.
Warped by Martin Malcolm, directed by Russell Lucas.
Be careful who you love.
20th-24th February 2019