Four teenagers stand on the cusp of change as they prepare to leave their dormitory home town. A witty black comedy with fine performances, let down by a lack of dramatic tension and awful sightlines.
But first a rant: can the organisers of venues please remember that theatre is designed to be seen as well as heard? If you have more than two rows of seating, it might be advisable to position your seats in such a way that rows three and beyond get half a chance of seeing the action. Stagger or raise them, I don’t mind which, but this is the largest fringe festival in Europe and you do have a year’s notice. Customers deserve to be treated better than this. End of rant.
Thanks for bearing with me, patient reader. Sometimes things just need to be said and hang the consequences. To remain silent would have condemned me to a mute claustrophobia, feverishly biting on my tongue while apparently clucking over the virtues of the latest production from Beckett In The Bushes, where Endgame is re-set among the cottaging toilets of ‘60s South London.
Self-expression doesn’t appear to be a problem for Jas, the sultry and sulky sixth former at the heart of this sharp and well-directed play. She seems to be in a constant need to get things off of her chest (literally, in one scene) but is constantly hampered by the fact that she has nothing to say. She knows she’s frustrated but she doesn’t know by what and so becomes a vortex, an emotional black hole, tearing apart those who come closest to her, whether it be the loyal but vacuous Rhys, plain-speaking lesbian Esther or over-achieving rich kid Finn.
The play itself takes place over a final summer, beginning with A’levels and ending with preparations for university after results have come through. Nothing much happens: Jas breaks up with Rhys, we learn she’s been sleeping with Finn, there’s a party where drink and drugs are lethargically consumed and all the while Jas both attracts and repels those around her , using sexuality as ameans to get what she wants, whatever that may be. The characters are by turns capricious, brutal and self-absorbed. In short, they are 17 and the script by Georgia Coles-Riley captures the narcissism of that age in a blackly humorous way that held this reviewer fascinated, locked in a sickened recollection of a time when his mood swings were also the centre of the universe.
Likewise, director Kate Devine has given the piece a sense of languor, the slowness of an aimless, if not endless, summer. Part of this has to do with the perfect casting: the four main performers, Tamsin Newlands, Amir El-Masry, Charlotte Lewis and Matt McKeever, seem to fully inhabit their roles and provide nuances that take them beyond the thumbnail sketches that these parts could have potentially become. El-Masry as Finn seems to be having a great time, particularly during the party scene, lisping his way through a psychotropic stream of unconsciousness.
“So why no five stars?” you ask, dear reader, your patience finally exhausted. “Why has this cast and crew not been showered with Fringe Firsts and West End contracts?” The answers are quite simple (and, no, it’s not just a matter of the seating – that didn’t help but I’ve said enough). The play’s virtues, unfortunately, are also its vices. The script accurately captures the rampant egocentrism of the late teenage years, but for anyone who’s gone through that period, we know it’s a temporary situation, a phase, and therefore it’s hard to care for any of these empty-headed little sex machines with too much money and not enough imagination (because that’s what being 17 is, too).Equally, the play’s sense of languor means that nothing happens and – unlike, say, Tennessee Williams, himself no stranger to hot and sweaty environs – nothing has happened. There are no damning secrets, no tragic consequences, just scene after scene of sparkling but inconsequential dialogue. Any action that does take place occurs off-stage and mostly out of time, having taken place some years ago and now being referred to in a nostalgic fashion, and the play – resultantly – fizzles out .
Georgia Coles-Riley is clearly a writer of talent and she captures the ridiculous self-regard of her characters with a satirist’s net. Having scooped them up, however, she doesn’t seem to know where to keep them so they can still thrive. This particular catch belongs more in the domestic aquarium of radio drama than the rougher waters of theatre, which require a physicality that Haverfordwest sadly fails to provide. Again, theatre demands to be seen and not simply heard