Home » London Theatre Reviews » Shunk by Jacob Ethan Tanner at the Pleasance Theatre | Review

Shunk by Jacob Ethan Tanner at the Pleasance Theatre | Review

Shunk arrives at the Pleasance as part of the theatre’s Futures Festival, which showcases works-in-progress. Written and performed by Jacob Ethan Tanner, this monologue invites us into the world of David. He has only ever known the small industry town of Port Talbot in South Wales. His father, like most men in the community, was employed at the famous steelworks. That was until a horrific workplace accident claimed his life. David found himself becoming the man of the house when still just a boy. While he had a younger sister to dote on and protect and a mother to make proud, David was forced to carry the burden of responsibility usually reserved for those much older than him.

Shunk by Jacob Ethan Tanner at the Pleasance Theatre
Shunk by Jacob Ethan Tanner at the Pleasance Theatre

Drinking his first pint in one of the local establishments, the sixteen-year-old observes it is not just alcohol the locals have a thirst for. Spotting an opportunity to make money – there is no way he’s going into higher education, and he can hardly go to the steelworks – David approaches the local gangster with a proposition. He will deal drugs for him. And so an apprenticeship of sorts begins and David sees more money in his pocket than ever before. The inevitable happens and David soon finds he is snorting more than he is selling. Rapidly spiralling into addiction, he ends up on the streets, his life a prolonged hangover with fleeting moments of euphoria stealing him away.

While it sounds bleak, Tanner presents David’s story largely through humour. The very opening scene is one of slapstick but there are plentiful character-driven jokes along the way. Those familiar with Port Talbot will be tickled by its depiction, while those unaware of the town will soon visualise it thanks to Tanner’s gift for storytelling. Engaging and endearing, we are immediately drawn to the performer and quickly invest ourselves in his character and the roller-coaster journey he embarks upon.

The play is just that – a roller-coaster which at one moment has the audience laughing before being rendered silent. This works, to an extent. While using humour to mask pain is a common human trait, there is a sense that some further development of the more emotive aspects of the play would be welcome. Tanner is a natural at the comedy, but he is also adept at capturing raw emotion in a wonderfully authentic way. We witness glimmers of this with some poignant moments but overall, these elements are too muted against the copious comical descriptions and self-deprecation and the play feels a tad uneven as a result.

Tanner is certainly an exciting performer to watch and this play clearly has potential. As a work-in-progress, the blueprint for something richer and more refined is there. It will be interesting to be in the company of David again in whatever future incarnation of Shunk materialises.

Review by Jonathan Marshall


‘Cocaine Capital of Wales, Port Talbot. And this Shunk was becoming its little Prince…’

If there’s anything lower than working class, it’s David. After a tragedy in his childhood, sixteen-year-old David turned to dealing drugs to help his family survive life in Port Talbot. But everything soon begins to spiral completely out of his control…

Written and performed by Jacob Ethan Tanner
24 and 25 May 2024
Presented as part of the Futures Festival at Pleasance Theatre


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