Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Pop blares over the speakers as the boyish and sprightly James Cooney flits around the stage, practising football moves and drawing on the floor. These images begin Bottleneck, giving the audience a hint as to the energetic, witty piece to emerge.
The basic premise of Bottleneck is a classic coming-of-age tale. But this teen angst ballad has excellent set dressing by talented playwright Luke Barnes to provide context – it’s 1989 and we’re in Liverpool with Greg (Cooney), an hysterically immature 14-year-old. The play stands on its own as a laughably charming comedy about a kid throwing stones, stealing a few quid here and there, and praying to be able to grow a moustache. But when Greg gets caught up in a national tragedy where his smart mouth and quick feet can’t save him, Barnes’s script turns from amusing to sublime.
Cooney is a veritable bundle of energy and talent. He understands and humanises the pubescent Greg, from his pent up frustration to his wonder at adulthood. “He fuckin’ doesn’t get it,” Cooney exclaims at the start of the performance, channelling the quintessential essence of every misunderstood teenager. Cooney isn’t afraid to tackle the exhausting physicality of the exuberant character, from falling to the floor at a moment’s notice to waggling his finger and swishing his hips to imitate Greg’s female classmates.
Cooney is, in fact, so energetic that at times, his line delivery may get a bit difficult to comprehend, especially combined with his thick Liverpudlian accent. But in such a dynamic performance, this element is easily forgiven.
Steven Atkinson provides sterling direction to the tricky moments of the play, allowing the deeply difficult subjects (sexual assault, death, and child abuse) to coalesce gracefully with the overarching comic atmosphere. The pace of the show unfolds beautifully, making the show’s twist believably surprising, even for those who are familiar with the events of the play. Climactic lighting and music (Natasha Chivers and Tom Mills) build tension and work perfectly with the flow of Cooney’s performance.
Overall, Bottleneck provides an hour of storytelling that is in measures both delightful and contemplative. On a grey and rainy afternoon in Edinburgh, don’t miss the chance to be transported to Liverpool with this captivating play.