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Review of Plastic at The Old Red Lion Theatre

Plastic, Old Red Lion Theatre (Madison Clare and Mark Weinman) - courtesy of Mathew Foster
Plastic, Old Red Lion Theatre (Madison Clare and Mark Weinman) – courtesy of Mathew Foster.

There’s not even a scintilla of hope in an almost relentlessly gloomy play, where the only glimmer of anything approaching satisfaction comes in the form of a recollection of a football fixture. The plastic in Plastic is used in the show’s critical incident – because so many contemporary plays simply must have a scene in which everything suddenly changes and affects the lives of its characters irrevocably.

But at least the critical incident in this play comes unexpectedly, even if quite why it happened left me baffled, with insufficient context provided. The sound effects were sometimes superfluous, and sometimes rather distracting, noticeable enough to determine that things are about to get poignant, or silly (for instance) before the moment happens. Perhaps that is what the production is trying to say – that one of the reasons why teenagers are stereotyped by certain people is because they do indeed behave in ways that they may regret with the passage of time.

There’s the smoking behind the bike sheds (described not depicted, like so much in this brief play) and then there are even more serious matters, pertaining to the schoolboy friendship between Jack (Louis Greatorex) and Ben (Thomas Coombes), and how things can change so quickly in the rough-and-tumble fickleness of secondary school survival. Lisa (Madison Clare) has the greatest character development (in my humble opinion), by her own admission going from being one of the ‘in-crowd’ to being something of a social pariah – in relative terms, mind you – this is a school we’re talking about, at the end of the day. Kev (Mark Weinman) is the cool kid, or at least one of them, with playground credibility – but what of his future?

I can’t help but take issue with the incomplete sentences, particularly in the opening scenes, where the audience is left to determine for themselves what the characters are both literally and figuratively trying to say. This verbal constipation is highlighted all the more by poetic rhythms elsewhere in the script, which – as most good poetry does – delivers a lot of narrative with much succinctness. This, I hasten to add, is poetry of the accessible type, and the lack of naturalistic speaking in verse does counter a concern of mine. I am uncertain, as far as the prose is concerned, as to whether this really was the way in which adolescents conversed some time ago (it’s clearly before the era of the now-ubiquitous mobile phone, as nobody in this play has one), or whether this is how older creatives imagined their conversations to have been like.

Other elements of the production are somewhat quirky. A number of light bulbs hang over the performance space and are shifted around, with negligible impact on the atmosphere, the narrative, or anything else. The lights change colour with regularity, but I could make neither head nor tail as to what the various colours were supposed to represent at any given point. In one long dual monologue, where Jack and Lisa take it in turns to wax lyrical, the lights change to denote – wait for it – the blinking of a character’s eyes, accompanied by them saying the word, “Blink.” I wondered if someone was going to say, “Scene change”, at the end of it. I shan’t confirm either way; that would be too much of a spoiler.

There is, at least, a lot to think over (and this being a pub theatre, much to be discussed in the bar afterwards). The notion that school days are the best days is incinerated well before the curtain call, though I would have thought part of growing up is setting aside what happened, or didn’t happen, at school, and moving on, rolling up one’s sleeves, and getting on with life, with all its imponderables and unfairness. That said, the production’s assertion that the student experience at school can play a part in determining a person’s future shouldn’t be entirely discounted. An example: I once heard about a successful business tycoon who was nicknamed ‘Wall Street’ by his classmates for his entrepreneurial flair, evident while still a pupil. Just don’t expect that sort of tale here, though – the sheer amount of negativity is depressing, and nobody turns out very well in this borderline comfortless story.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Remember the moment you became an adult? Or did you miss it?
Kev used to have a girlfriend called Lisa, she wore a fitted blazer and Reebok classics, lit up the schoolyard. Kev used to be the captain of the school football team. Scored the winner in the All-Essex schools cup final.

Ben used to get beaten up most days. He stole money from his mum’s purse to pay off ‘Wicksy’. Now he’s an accountant. But Ben always had Jack. His loyal, unbreakable mate Jack.

Adults are the kids that survive school right?
And what if some kids don’t?

A charged, haunting, unflinchingly honest new thriller about time, memory and escape by BAFTA nominated, prizewinning Essex playwright Kenneth Emson. The production is directed by critically acclaimed 2017 JMK Award winner Josh Roche and designed by Sophie Thomas fresh from their lauded production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Young Vic. The show is presented by multi-award winning new writing company Poleroid Theatre (This Must Be The Place) in association with the Mercury Theatre.

PLASTIC
WRITER – KENNETH EMSON
DIRECTOR – JOSH ROCHE
DESIGNER – SOPHIE THOMAS
LIGHTING DESIGN – PETER SMALL
SOUND DESIGN – KIERAN LUCAS
PRODUCER – POLEROID THEATRE/MOLLY ROBERTS
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER – CORINNE SALISBURY
ASSISTANT PRODUCER – HOLLY WHITE

CAST:
MARK WEINMAN (CAPTAIN AMAZING, SOHO THEATRE; THE GAMECHANGERS, BBC; PRESS – BBC)
LOUIS GREATOREX (SAFE, NETFLIX; THE LAST POST, BBC; LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX, BBC)
THOMAS COOMBES (BARBARIANS, TOOTING ARTS CLUB – OFF WEST END AWARD WINNER FOR BEST MALE; HIM & HER, BBC; HATTON GARDEN, ITV)
MADISON CLARE (RECENT LAMDA ACTING GRADUATE MAKING HER PROFESSIONAL STAGE DEBUT).

@PoleroidTheatre – @ORLTheatre

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 21st April 2018
http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/

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