Tag Archives: George Turvey

“Shook” from Papatango

Samuel Bailey’s play is deservedly multi-award winning. Not only did Bailey receive the prestigious Papatango new writing prize for it but, in 2019, accolades followed a run at Southwark Playhouse. While Covid-19 prevented a scheduled transfer to the West End, thankfully, a filmed production is now available.

Following three young offenders due to become fathers and taking parenting classes in prison, the play is unsurprisingly bleak. Learning the histories of Riyad, Jonjo and Cain is tough. Bailey highlights how abuse, poor education, mental health and gang culture affect them. But none of these topics is imposed on the play. Flowing from the true stories that inspired Bailey, his writing does justice to painful experiences.

That all three characters are resigned to so many of their problems makes Shook strangely disturbing. As with the violence – the “biting, punching, kicking” – that we hear about, and the misogyny and homophobia we listen in to, a lack of life chances is taken for granted. Futures are pretty predetermined. The shocking ignorance that these men suffer from is relentlessly exposed. Riyad’s ambitions are simply a source of pain to him, while Cain’s remark that “nothing good comes of thinking” proves haunting.

Joshua Finan in Shook from Papatango Credit The Other Richard
Joshua Finan

Having so few choices that being institutionalised seems a viable option is truly depressing. Director George Turvey does well with moments of light relief, keeping them firmly under control. Best of all, strong characterisations involve the audience and prevent the piece descending into any kind of ‘poverty porn’. The cast are able to develop their roles magnificently. Josef Davies’ Jonjo is catatonic at first. Josh Finan’s Cain, with his fevered energy, moves from talking too much to asking powerful questions. But the play’s lynchpin is Riyad. Ivan Oyik is fantastic in the role: weaving the exercise of petty power over fellow inmates with underlying insecurities. 

Andrea Hall and Ivan Oyik
Andrea Hall and Ivan Oyik

If there’s a flaw in Shook, it’s that the men’s teacher, Grace, is underwritten. As a result, Andrea Hall’s admirable performance feels wasted. Likewise, I’ve a suspicion that an oft mentioned off-stage character, Jake, is supposed to be more vivid. Or maybe it’s appropriate that those trying to help the men remain shadowy figures? There’s certainly a sense they will achieve little despite their attempts.

An effort that does pay off is to bring the audience increasingly close to the characters. All involved in Shook should be proud of this achievement. Likewise, bringing the characters themselves closer, into a circle of support and friendship, is skilfully managed. It makes learning what each misses all the more moving. Things big and small – from the details of their lives to the lives they are excluded from – run throughout the play, including, most touchingly, wanting a hug. My advice is simple: be sure not to miss Shook.

Until 28 February 2021

www.papatango.co.uk

Photos by The Other Richard

“Isolated But Open” from Papatango

Artistic director George Turvey’s quest to find new talent hasn’t stopped during the Covid-19 lockdown. Quick to respond to theatre closures, ten new monologues (plus two from award-winning playwrights) have been filmed by actors working in isolation. Without trying to “rate” this dozen – and apologies to those missed out – the standard is high and there is something for all to enjoy.

Several of the monologues address our current conditions. Arguably Benedict Lombe’s piece, rise from the wreckage, highlights opportunities and problems. The character’s challenge to aim for “something better” after lockdown is commendable. And the technique of dealing with the “one-way conversation” the monologue format has to confront is good – it’s a message to a future self. But the script is a touch self-conscious and the language full of slogans.

Emma Pritchard’s Pythagoras benefits from more imagination. Its subject is a young girl who plans to rescue a horse “as the world is ending”. Touching on teenage lives put on hold by the virus, there’s a quirky sense of humour and an excellent performance from Lucy Bromilow, who even seems to blush on cue. Balcony Bonding by Rachel De-Lahay is perhaps the strongest written: a Facebook Live chat between neighbours who don’t know each other, led by an endearing character in a strong performance from Susan Wokoma (complete with infectious laugh), it is simple but effective.

It’s a personal preference, but I enjoyed the escapism of monologues that had nothing to do with the coronavirus more. William Drew’s Hungry Like has a neat, intriguing premise with a surreal touch, and Angus Harrison’s Guts makes the induction of a newly recruited fishmonger in a supermarket far more interesting than it sounds!

Three plays that touch on grief were my highlights. Martha Watson Allpress’ Wild Swim has a simple premise about a mother and daughter that proved effective: painful but positive, impressively filmed (although the music proved distracting) and expertly performed by Lizzy Watts. Hips by Alex Riddle isn’t quite as focused, but the idea of a father and son who are professional impersonators could easily be developed and Josef Davies’ performance is great. Another short leaving you wishing it was longer comes from Tafline Steen, who manages to quote “existential terror” without coming across as pretentious (thanks to Andrea Hall’s performance, maybe) and who mixes feeling with philosophy in a way I’d like to see more of.

The degree to which these monologues should stand fully formed or show potential to grow is only one starting point for debate that the selection provokes. All involved should be proud of this inspiring project – and to have been included from an amazing 2,063 submissions. That is a lot of talent for Papatango to continue to try and foster, which brings us, deservedly, to the donation button!

www.papatango.co.uk/isolated-but-open

“Talk Radio” at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Theatre loves finding relevance in older plays and it’s easy to see why a revival of Eric Bogosian’s 1987 play is a candidate. One night with a ‘shock jock’ on US talk radio is a great scenario and the combination of free speech as a credo, with neo-Nazi’s and loons leaping on board, can’t help but feel prescient. It’s a relief, in a sense, to be reminded that hate speech is nothing new; as the play’s lead actor Matthew Jure notes in the programme, these phone-in shows were the proud parents of Twitter trolls. There are plenty of salient observations and much to ponder on.

It’s a shame neither the play nor production lives up to its potential. While Jure’s DJ, Barry Champlain, specialises in cutting off callers, Bogosian himself leaves too much hanging. There’s a hoax bomb threat, a love affair and an impromptu visit from a caller (a role Ceallach Spellman does well with), but no storyline feels resolved. Maybe there’s not enough for the supporting cast to work with: monologues from Barry’s colleagues, played by Molly McNerney and George Turvey, are the only chance they have to stand out. Director Sean Turner doesn’t inject enough energy, so there’s little sense of the drama of live broadcast and the script’s humour is blunted. And, while Max Dorey’s design is impressive, it proves impractical.

Another dead end is Barry’s history, a mythology created by the radio station manager. We need to see a lot more of Andy Secombe, who plays this part – his is the only character who develops past cliché. And the idea of Barry as a fraud could have been explored much earlier, since his real agenda and his delusions of grandeur form the kernel of the play. Jure conveys desperation and malice well and makes a final breakdown moving, but he’s sorely lacking in charisma (after all, Barry has fans). Instead, there’s only contrariness – quickly boring and frequently silly – and anger. Talk Radio has fallen for Barry’s own nemesis – taking things too seriously – leading to listeners tuning in and dropping off.

Until 23 September 2017

www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/theatre

Photo by Cameron Harle

“Unscorched” at the Finborough Theatre

As the winner of the prestigious Papatango New Writing Prize, Luke Owen gets his first play, Unscorched, staged at the Finborough Theatre. Packing in the critics last night, the scene is set to judge the script, and it’s easy to see why it won as it’s a strong piece. But just as impressive are the performances from two players: Ronan Raftery, who takes the lead role, and his love interest, played by Eleanor Wyld.

Back to the playwright. Owen’s unsavoury subject is child abuse, with the action based around an office where pornography is analysed in order to assist the police. We know it’s an unpalatable job; the first scene, with a brief but emotive performance from Richard Atwill, brilliantly shows a worker having a breakdown because of the traumatic material he is exposed to.

Enter our new recruit Tom (Raftery). With the bravest of intentions, the long-serving Nidge, performed capably by John Hodgkinson, mentors him. Seemingly immune to the horrors he watches, Nidge makes us aware of the toll this necessary work takes. And Tom is carefully watched by his boss, who has a “buddy” approach to management that strikes a jarringly comic tone. George Turvey convinces in this role, pointing out the therapeutic potential of an Xbox and promoting paintballing – as if these really could be solutions.

It is the romantic writing, about Tom and his new love affair, which is best and highlights Owen’s intelligent voice. As with the main subject matter, the relationship is written in an admirably understated fashion. Careful to avoid prurient touches, it feels authentic and shows the effects that working in such a horrible field have on ordinary people and this likeable couple in particular.

Satisfying as it is, the relationship Tom starts out on could have been even more of a focus to the play. A series of (too) brief scenes start to become a touch frustrating. Perhaps the direction from Justin Audibert could have been slightly tighter. The astoundingly efficient set from Georgia Lowe works hard but time is taken up preparing for very short scenarios so it feels as if the play needs a bigger stage. Although given the quality of the writing and performances, it surely deserves one.

Until 23 November 2013

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Written 1 November 2013 for The London Magazine