Plays with verse can divide an audience but, when written as well as this sound piece by Kenneth Emson, they can command attention and respect. Starting with the poetry of football, this new piece develops from a slightly dull, if sensitive, inspection of playground politics and young love into a powerful drama of teenage psychopathy. Emson doesn’t have much new to say about his subject matter – school can be tough and, increasingly, violent – but he does write about it all very effectively.
Aided by Josh Roche’s tight direction and four strong performances, Plastic is a powerful look at toxic masculinity and a twisty thriller. There’s a love story that confounds expectations, well performed by Mark Weinman as a former schoolboy football star, and Madison Clare as his younger girlfriend, Lisa. The only woman in the piece, Clare deserves special credit for bringing as much complexity to her character as possible. Another couple are best mates Jack and Ben, whose unpopularity at school leads to homophobic bullying and the play’s disturbing finale. Again, the outcome is surprising and both Louis Greatorix and Thomas Coombes, who take the parts, are sympathetic and scary by turns and engagingly believable.
Obsessed with pivotal events, the play looks at the moments that lives change and people become defined by their past. From the start we are looking back – note that only two characters wear school uniforms, and there’s some meta-theatricality as recall becomes contested, especially around Lisa, who is the community’s “dark secret”. But going to and fro in time, in one instance to an imagined future, becomes confusing. It doesn’t help that much dialogue seems addressed to one of designer Sophie Thomas’ admittedly stylish light bulbs. Stockists’ details please.
With his look at the young white working class, Emson treads a fine line – it’s clear we’re all supposed to go to college and make sure we don’t have kids too early. Condemning the “shitty little town” that is the play’s location needs substantiating, since presenting staying there as an unquestionable tragedy is overplayed. Thankfully, the emotional depth of the characters is satisfying and the plotting strong. Attention to detail and careful performances, leading to explosive violence superbly handled by Roche, make the conclusion of Plastic fantastic.
Until 21 April 2018
Photo by Mathew Foster