Tag Archives: Jake Davies

“Yen” at the Royal Court

Anna Jordan’s play won the Bruntwood Prize in 2013 and has already had an acclaimed run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. A bold look at the ever-topical issue of our problem youth, Jordan’s unflinching eye earns her work the distinction of being one of the most depressing plays you could go and see.

Hench and Bobbie, 16 and 13 respectively, have been left to fend for themselves. Jordan lists signs of poverty and depravity relentlessly: dirt, crisps, lager and pornography. Incapable of caring for themselves, let alone the large dog they have imprisoned in their bedroom, the boys can’t call for help as they have no credit on their phones. Remind yourself the situation is unusual – but it isn’t unbelievable.

Writing gritty is relatively easy. Writing something this grim is harder. To steer clear of a documentary feel there are embellishments. A portable heater stands in for the dog. And Bobbie becomes literally feral at one point (he barks when distressed) – a brilliant and powerfully unsettling moment. And there’s the PlayStation, their only source of solace (which they pass out while playing), superbly staged as a bank of lights.

Annes Elwy as Jenny

The performances and Ned Bennett’s direction are first class. Sian Breckin manages to evoke sympathy as the boy’s awful mother, indicating a tragic back story: throughout the play we are reminded that you can love someone (or a dog) yet treat them horribly. Annes Elwy makes a credible character out of Jenny, who tries to stop the animal cruelty and then starts an unlikely romance with Hench. It’s Jenny’s nickname that gives the play its title, but having another young character as such an obvious foil, painfully showing what it is boys yearn for, feels forced.

In the lead roles Alex Austin and Jake Davies’ performances are marked by an awesome physicality. A mix of hormones, menace and boredom, they inhabit their characters fully and it’s all about frustration. Each instance of physical contact, indeed the potential of touching, becomes intense. It makes the unspecified trauma that affects Hench and the violence Jennifer experiences all the more potent. Austin and Davies’ efforts bring out the very best in the text and do justice to a play that is both hard working and hard work.

Until 13 February 2016


Photo by Richard Davenport

“Barbarians” at the former Central Saint Martins College

The Tooting Arts Club, a company that revels in having no permanent home, had enormous success last year with its staging of Sweeney Todd, first in a pie-and-mash shop and then next door to the Queen’s Theatre. Back in town, with Bill Buckhurst’s accomplished revival of Barrie Keeffe’s trilogy of short plays, it has now taken over a former art school. It’s fair to say that the work – dealing with youth unemployment, football hooliganism and racial violence – hits harder than most West End fare.

Following Paul, Jan and Louis as they dabble in petty crime, before finding factory jobs and then going their separate ways, is pretty depressing. Keeffe injects a lot of humour, which the performers respond to eagerly, but the frustration and fear that fill their adolescence doesn’t make for comfortable viewing. The plays may be 40 years old but, apart from some fun with a themed bar, they are sadly still relevant. These three may seem a little more naïve than teenagers today, but they’re probably just less well connected – the absence of mobile phones is noticeable.

Killing Time is the first one-act play. We get to know the boys in a relatively light-hearted way as they make trouble while on the dole. There’s a great use of the space as they sit with the audience and scamper around tables, along with some extremely offensive language. Josh Williams’ Louis engenders most sympathy. Having completed a course, he may be an expert on refrigeration, but he can master little else. Abide With Me is set outside the FA cup final, as the trio wait for tickets, predictably let down by an adult in their lives. Their search for belonging is palpable, whether as military cadets or football fans: “the best army there is,” says Thomas Coombes’ Paul in a performance that brims with aggression.

For the finale, In The City, we’ve moved from Lewisham, via Wembley to the Notting Hill Carnival. The boys are older, although I hesitate to use the word grown up. Jan (Jake Davies) has become a soldier, whose terror at his imminent departure to Northern Ireland informs an impressive monologue. A chance encounter with Louis results in a senseless and disturbing attack – the threat of violence hangs over all three plays, and when it arrives it shocks to the core. There’s a lot to praise about Barbarians, not least three excellent performances, but this powerful and insightful show comes with a warning.

Until 7 November 2015


Photo by Cesare De Giglio

“Beautiful Thing” at the Arts Theatre

Jonathan Harvey’s iconic gay coming-of-age story, Beautiful Thing, celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new production at the Arts Theatre in Covent Garden. Despite some nostalgic nods, the play is as fresh as ever: a skilfully written comedy drama with fantastic roles and an admirably un-patronising focus on working-class life. Beautiful Thing touches on universal themes with a winning bravery.

The huge success of the play, and the subsequent 1996 film, create a special atmosphere with seemingly every audience member knowing every line. The jokes – of which there are plenty – are anticipated gleefully and the roars of laughter almost interrupt the action. Director Nikolai Foster gives the crowd what they want and his staging is a respectful affair. But it’s impressive to note his firm hand, with moments of quiet imposed as the relationship between the two young boys, Ste and Jamie, neighbours on a council estate in Thamesmead, blossoms into romance.

Beautiful Thing - Jake Davies & Suranne Jones - cMike Lidbetter for QNQ Ltd
Suranne Jones and Jake Davies

The superb Suranne Jones as Jamie’s mother shows the piece is as much about parental relationships as anything else. Playing the hard-nosed Sandra with skill, duelling with her neighbour Leah and dealing with her lover Tony (Zaraah Abrahams and Oliver Farnworth – both in fine form), Jones gives a tremendous emotional edge to the role. Through strong performances from Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard, Jamie and Ste’s shared fears about emotions and the future are presented as those of boys rather than men – an important point central to the play. Harvey’s writing and the skill of the young actors enhance the empathy and humour and ensure sure the play lives up to its title.

Until 25 May 2013

Photos by Mike Lidbetter

Written 18 April 2013 for The London Magazine