Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Intense characterisation and a blistering script drag the viewer into Manchester’s double-dealing underworld in this new production from the award-winning ‘Shameless’ stable.
Keep The Change is a scalpel-sharp portrayal of Manchester’s vicious underworld and the drug dealers that inhabit it. This is Darren Jones’ first script, and if this is indicative of the calibre of the talent we can expect to see emerging from Paul ‘Shameless’ Abbott’s Writer’s Studio, the venture is worth every penny of the seven figure sum he reputedly invested into creating the residential project. Jones has emerged with a voice is authentic and original, never falling back on cliché to create its relentless verisimilitude.
Under the capable direction of Paul Walker the tight group of actors bring Jones’ script to knuckle whitening life. As versatile as he is talented, Jones as drug dealer Greg and Ciaran Griffiths as his partner in crime are quietly astonishing, so entirely do they inhabit their characters. That Jones never falls into the trap of glorifying or condemning his criminal underworld enables his characters to emerge into fully-fleshed people. The writing is blistering, never grasping for laughs but eliciting them through the sheer force of its observation in a way that seasoned television writers would sell their vital organs for a hope of achieving.
In an unusual bit of staging, scenes filmed on location are projected onto the white backdrop and acted out simultaneously on stage, which really helps to bring the pebble-dashed council estate world to gritty, recognisable life. Props are minimal but evocative – from the Domino’s pizza box to the wedges of notes, nothing appears that does not add to the realism of the scene. As much of the action takes place on the two Ikea sofas that form the hapless, grey jogger-bottomed Butch’s taxi, the neutrality of the all white set helps to ensure that the audience is not distracted by the physical reality and limitations of the stage. Instead the sheer force of characterisation and speed of plot reach out and grab the audience, dragging them along as surely as if they had been bundled into the back of the cab.
The simple plot offers the same function as the plain backdrop of the set – it becomes a space onto which more than could be physically there can be projected. In fact, the predictability of what happens next becomes one of the play’s most nail-biting assets – it becomes so tense to watch the unfolding of events to these utterly real characters that there is an almost euphoric release when the events spiral to their inevitable yet shocking conclusion. This is a brilliantly crafted, astoundingly executed debut. My pick of the Fringe.