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

Catching Up


theSpaceUK, Symposium Hall, Edinburgh

Theatre Paradok’s 2021 Fringe offering is a new play about friendship. Lemon (Lizzie Martin) and her best friend, Sean (Leonardo Shaw), want to write a screenplay. For reasons best known to themselves, they decide that the best way to achieve this is to travel to Norfolk and lock themselves away for a long weekend… Despite their painfully posh accents and the fact that they talk a lot about how privileged they are (they’re middle-class, privately-educated North Londoners, whose coming-of-age stories are all centred in Regent’s Park), they don’t have much money; their train tickets have wiped them out. Still, it’ll be worth it if they can co-write their masterpiece.

But it’s not that simple. Of course it’s not (it wouldn’t be much of a play if it were). Friends since school, Lemon and Sean’s relationship is adversarial to say the least. Sean is bombastic and demanding; Lemon is obviously used to him getting his own way. But there’s a hint of a memory niggling in her mind, and it’s making her uncomfortable. What is it? When Sean insists that vodka and weed are the best catalysts for creativity, Lemon over-indulges, and the past comes rushing back, threatening everything.

The past is very much present in this production, as younger incarnations of Lemon and Sean (played by Freya Wilson and Tom Hindle respectively) are onstage throughout, as is Lemon’s girlfriend, Lily (Florence Carr-Jones). I like this conceit, although a bigger stage would allow the cast to do more with it; it all feels a little cramped and cluttered in the small space available here. Director Isabella Forshaw really embraces the non-naturalistic approach, which works well with the material, underscoring the volatile and unpredictable nature of memory and emotion. I particularly like a rag-doll movement sequence (choreographed by Isla Jamieson-McKenzie), which illustrates the details that Lemon has repressed.

It’s not perfect: in places, the storytelling feels a little opaque and the mirroring sequence could do with a little more precision. Adult Sean needs more to do; although Shaw (who is also the playwright) delivers a strong performance, we don’t really learn enough about his grown-up self.

All in all, however, this is an interesting and thought-provoking piece.

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield

On Your Bike


the Space@Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh

The members of Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society have a lot to live up to: their predecessors were responsible for the smash hit SiX. I’d feel a bit mean for introducing the comparison, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re touting the link as a means of promotion, so I reckon it’s fair game.

And honestly, they don’t come out too badly. Okay, so On Your Bike (words by Joe Venable; music by Ben James) doesn’t have the universal appeal of a rewritten bit of history, nor the inbuilt narrative arc. But it’s a lovely, lively – and meaningful – musical nonetheless, and I am thoroughly engaged.

It’s a timely tale. Aidan (Dominic Carrington) longs to be an artist; Gemma (Ella Nevill) just wants to pay her rent. To make ends meet, they work as ‘Eatseroo’ riders. They wait outside Felicity (Claire Lee Shenfield)’s chicken shop, desperate for work, conscious all the time of the precariousness of their situation: their zero hours contracts, their poor pay, their lack of employment rights. And when Gemma is knocked off her bike, she has nowhere to turn…

Aidan’s girlfriend, Daisy (Emilia Grace), is no help. She works for Eatseroo in a different capacity: she’s a ‘proper’ worker, with an office and a salary. She’s bought into the company’s ethos, and wants Aidan to sell out his dreams.

Although the musical addresses serious issues (unionisation, exploitation, animal rights), it does so with a lightness of touch, so that it never feels hectoring. There is humour here, and tenderness, and a gentle love story – which feels all the more romantic for never being fully resolved.

The four performers all have fabulous voices, as you’d expect, and they complement each other well. The songs are upbeat and zesty, embodying the youthful spirit of the protagonists. There is archetypal musical theatre here, but James has also incorporated rock, jazz and hip hop, to vivacious effect.

Maybe Daisy’s redemption feels a little pat, and perhaps Gemma’s post-crash desperation could be highlighted a little more. But these are only quibbles: this is, without doubt, a quality piece of work.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield