Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Exploring themes of loyalty, character and violence within modern youth culture, writer Reuben Johnson has created a powerful piece of drama. He also directs and plays the protagonist, an impressive achievement; not to mention the fact that he is starring in a second play he also wrote and directed. The acting from the twelve young cast members is uniformly excellent, and the script feels completely true to its material. This is a truly ‘real’ piece of work that doesn’t feel like theatre so much as life itself. Nothing short of outstanding.
The scene is set in a local wood with a tent and some cans of lager, an all too familiar scene of urban culture. Then one by one over the wall emerge the characters of the drama. Johnson plays the troubled Ashley, the bullish leader of the group who the others cower and look up to. Then Adam arrives with his older brother Jamie, a local lad who has been at Oxford University studying music. As he states: ‘I just came here for a drink and a laugh.’, but with the attitude shown by Ashley, Jamie is forced to fiercely stand by his morals. And so begins an engrossing divulging of Ashley’s character, and how all the players affect his perception.
With Jamie in place as a symbol of maturity the group dynamic is changed and Ashley doesn’t know how to handle it. Then with the arrival of the local head-case, the story takes a dramatic turn.
Reuben’s dialogue is so realistic it doesn’t feel like a play in the normal sense. And with such natural and flawless delivery by the actors it really feels like you are watching something strangely real and familiar. I was trying to work out where I’d seen these guys before and then it struck me: They are people we have all seen and know so well, they are disillusioned youths we see in the street, and here they are simply playing out an archetypal story within their own youth culture context. But we don’t ever feel pandered to, or made to feel sorry for them.
With the audience on three sides we are totally absorbed. There is no reliance on drama or comedy here, it simply happens naturally as it would be right now in many parts of the UK; only without an audience.
Such quality from such a young cast is really fantastic to watch. As soon as they appear on the stage you are hooked on their characters. Each one is finely drawn and defined and has his place in the hierarchy of the group. The emotional journey depicted by Johnson is gripping. Matthew Landers is also excellent, showing the incredulity and levelheadedness of someone who has grown out of the small mindedness that comes from immaturity and ignorance. And Michael Parr as Kieran is frightening bordering on psychotic. The drama is so good that at the end, when it’s finished, you have forgotten you are in a theatre at all.
Johnson’s direction is also mature, each character knowing their place and space on the stage. The wonderfully intimate space is effortlessly populated by the twelve characters without ever feeling crowded, and on top of this the stage fighting is conducted flawlessly.
In its second year now, reworked and recast, it has already won awards. And it feels like a very developed piece of work – not a common thing in the Fringe or anywhere for that matter. These guys have clearly worked very hard at developing the chemistry between them.
It is a long time since I came out of a theatre with the tingling sensation of having watched something so real. And you will probably have to sit down afterwards for it will stay with you long after you leave. If you want drama, see this.