Queen margaret University

Shook

22/08/21

theSpaceUK Triplex, Edinburgh

It’s easy to see why Samuel Bailey’s Shook won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, and why it garnered so much attention on its debut. It’s a beautifully written piece, full of warmth and humour: a brutal exposé of a society that condemns some people to the scrapheap almost from birth, and – at the same time – a heartbreakingly intimate tale.

Twisted Corner’s production does the material proud. Cain (Kieran Begley), Ryan (Ryan Stoddart) and Jonjo (William Dron) are young offenders. They’re also young fathers – or they’re about to be. Grace (Rebecca Morgan, who also directs) is their new teacher, running weekly parenting classes, hoping to help them break the cycle, to give their children a better start than any of them ever had – and to give them something to look forward to.

It’s an uphill battle. Of course it is. The odds are stacked against these boys. They have to negotiate so much just to get by: it’s a pitiless life, with obstacles at every turn. There’s a pecking order, and other people’s anger to endure – and that’s just inside. Outside, they know, is a world that doesn’t want them, that never wanted them; what is there to go home to, if they ever do get out?

The direction here is spot on: Morgan creates an atmosphere of absolute authenticity. The performances are nuanced and complex, each character fully realised. It’s emotionally draining – I’m laughing, then crying, then laughing again. Begley, in particular, has me on edge, Cain’s jangly, unpredictable energy making me fearful as well as sad. And all the time, I’m just hoping against hope that the boys will find the happy endings I know will elude them.

This is a stunning piece all round: the writing, direction and performances combine to create something really powerful and yet humbling. What we have here, in the end, is a fascinating examination of masculinity and fatherhood, and a tentative step towards redemption.

I have no criticism. None. This is note-perfect.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Wish List

16/08/21

theSpaceUK, Triplex, Edinburgh

Tamsin (Chloë Johnson) is struggling to get through the days.

With her parents gone, she is now the sole carer for her older brother, Dean (Michael Robertson), who is housebound by severe OCD, and can’t stop himself from gelling his hair every five minutes and staring moodily at his reflection in the mirror. Attempts to obtain funding for him fall on deaf ears, as Dean’s disability isn’t visible and he’s judged ‘capable of employment.’ Tricky when he can’t push himself into stepping out of the front door.

Somebody has to bring in a wage, so Tamsin takes up a post at an Amazon warehouse, packing goods of all shapes and sizes, under the baleful gaze of the Lead (Jack Elvey), who constantly points out that she’s failing to meet her targets. Somehow, she must push herself to rise above the back ache and the paper cuts and increase her numbers. But how can she settle, when she doesn’t know what trouble Dean is getting into at home? The Lead won’t even let her have a phone for emergencies. Her only consolation is charming fellow-worker, Luke (Josh Dobinson), a good-hearted sort who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help her through her punishing schedule.

This engaging four-hander by Katherine Soper could so easily have been run-of-the-mill, but the script is nuanced and the performances are strong (particularly Robertson, who doggedly stays in character even when he’s merely helping to move the furniture). Scenery changes can be the thorn in the paw of Fringe productions, but these are, for the most part, handled smoothly. Only the scene where Elvey is obliged to double-up as a waiter in a bar seems superfluous.

I love the fact that this is such a nuanced story. Soper resists the temptation to present Lead as an out-and-out villain and, as the play progresses, we learn that he too is just another reluctant cog in the corporate machine. He dislikes having to push his workers to the limit every bit as much as they resent being pushed. I also love the fact that Tamsin and Dean’s situation is never fully resolved and, for that matter, neither is the burgeoning relationship between Tamsin and Luke. Instead, we’re shown the importance of the sibling bond, and the extraordinary resilience that everyday people have to find in order to survive in a brutal world.

Wish List is well worth your attention – and you’ll surely think of it the next time you receive an Amazon delivery.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney