A play that will make you laugh, cringe and cry in equal measure, Poll Function is a masterstroke. From theatre company HailToThePeople, their debut Fringe show delves into the world of the outcast and disenfranchised: the young men who screwed the system and got screwed back.
What happens if you just stay in rags?
The outstanding John Pascoe and Elliot Winter portray two mates returning to the roads they grew up on: driving round the streets aimlessly, gratuitously speeding, playing loud music, pissing out the window. Pascoe’s character, especially, is designed to annoy. He is riddled with vices – skiving work, booze, drugs. He is obnoxious to Winter’s character, calling him out for “wussy” behaviours, repeating nonsense catchphrases: “Hyper, hyper, windscreen wiper!” Winter is a little better, saturated with self-doubt he tries to unload on Pascoe, who dismisses it. When they reach their old school, painful nostalgia engulfs both of them. We see a decline in bravado. As the boys unwind spools of memory everything falls apart, and the final monologue was so powerful, so incredibly emotive I left the venue feeling sick.
Plaudits must go to the writer Greg Shewring. Not only was the writing superb but a few key decisions really distinguish Poll Function from other pieces in the genre. The show is given some context from the music, and vague references to the moors and the countryside, but otherwise we’re lost in time and space. It is also unclear how long has passed since the boy’s school-days. The characters have no names and we don’t know what they do. It speaks to the universality of these emotions. I would extrapolate it so far as to say anyone could see a piece of their psyche in the psyche of these boys – the hopelessness, regret and sad nostalgia one can feel. Shewring also manages to shy away from the political. The boys are not part of the system, and we only hear from them, so political commentary is cleverly shunned where it could be so tempting to slip it in. Of course the audience can recognise the political push-and-pulls that would have shaped these boys lives, but it doesn’t feature in the narrative. Not to mention that is isn’t a popular tale of strife. Young angry men are so vilified in certain sections of society, the artistic, liberal sections at least, that we don’t hear about them. It’s a sort of subverted rags-to-riches tale; what happens if you just stay in rags?
Everything about this was sublime. The pacing is excellent, especially for a company new to the constraints of an hour-long narrative. Winter and Pascoe act superbly, slowly transforming from angry, aggressive bullies to tender creatures whose full humanity is laid before you. There is nothing on the stage bar a couple of stools and yet we see a whole new world unfold. If I could watch this again and again and again I would.