Sometimes all the elements of a production combine to form something that is stunning and deeply moving. The key to that success is knowing which people to bring together to fulfil a script that offers enormous potential to the right actors who can perfectly relate to each other. Producer Rebecca Lyle has done precisely that with
stunning and deeply moving
It’s a warm evening on the Essex coast in the summer of 2012. The three characters are in their late teens. James (Theo Ancient) is home from University with his new girlfriend Charlotte (Whitney Kehinde). His best friend John (Jack Condon - also the playwright) can’t wait to reunite with his mate; until they do, that is, and things start to go wrong. John is a local lad with the accent to prove it. The boys might have grown up in the same area but James is clearly from a posher background. With no hint of a glotttal stop he has fitted in very comfortably to academic life and happily forsaken the dull existence of his home town in which he no longer belongs. For John, however, there has been no road out, but rather a succession of failed attempts at maintaining a job and getting a girlfriend that lead to a downward spiral of drinking and depression. Charlotte, meanwhile, is taken aback that James should have a friend such as John with his passing racist comments, inabilty to make something of his life and negativity. The story goes on to span ten years, in three main scenes, during which the tensions mount, the rifts emerge, tragedy strikes and futures are at stake.
The play is rooted in Condon’s own background and the move he made from a working-class town to training at RADA and feelings that emerged of not having fully left the one while not being completely at home in the other. The tensions of transition, of making a new life and meeting new people, of starting fresh relationships, of returning to a place that has not moved on and where you don’t want to be, but where you have family and friends from whom you have become increasingly alienated, all feature in this play. We’re warned that the play contains ‘themes of mental health, social alienation and fractured communities in contemporary Britain’ but this is not an overtly in-your-face treatment of social and psychological issues. Instead, it is the heartfelt story of three people dealing with how they perceive the world to have treated them and now must decide how they deal with their world. It neither judges nor provides answers, but rather opens up cans of worms that make us all wriggle in situations with which we can identify and would wish to be comfortable.
Three honest performances and the intense chemistry between the actors bring this about. Condon performs the role he created with intensity and vulnerability. He’s a misfit in his own town, unable to form friendship groups or relationships, he’s intellectually separated from James and even more so from Charlotte with whom he cannot competently engage in the same conversation. As the years progress so does his social alienation and the tenderness and potential for love he possesses is diverted towards animals as isoloated as himself. Ancient makes the first entrance and it is easy to see from his pacing around and staring into the distance that much is going on in his mind. We have a glimpse of the fun times with John, but he knows that those days are over. His stomach is clearly knotted in their exchanges and for all that he tries to be understanding, supportive and compassionate it’s clear that he has moved on and is now in another place. Things will never be the same between them. Added to that is the road of discovery he has to travel in fathoming out his relationship with Charlotte and the implications of possible marriage and of having a family, for which, despite his intelligence, he is less than emotionally prepared for. Kehinde, in a captivating and beautifully spoken performance as Charlotte, goes on that journey with him, but only so far. She has her own background that impinges on her life and a future that has to be thought out. The question is whether her love and commitment is strong enough to wait for James to catch up with her and whether he can make the decisions that he ultimately cannot escape. That is left open as their ability to communicate is found wanting.
The intimacy of the Hope Theatre places us on top of this emotional roller-coaster and the work of the creative team heightens its impact. Anna Kelsey’s set covers the floor in what amounts to an artistic installation of grass, rocks, soil, flowers, empty cans and an amusing red and white toadstool that would not be out of place in the Tate Modern. Who would have thought so much could be fitted into so small a space and convey such a sense of location.
Composer and sound designer Joseff Harris more than adds to that with his soundscape of waves and abstract noises that are interwoven with the text and heighten the tensions and emotions. The sound of the sea is combined with the sight of the stars and changing colour tones in Gabriel Finn's sympathetic and enhancing lighting design. This team, that has clearly worked so imaginatively together, is further assisted by Amy Hales as stage manager and Korren Howell as assistant director.
Jawbone Theatre have scored a triumph with this, their first production, and it’s a joy to witness such success from a company committed to creating stories ‘that open pathways for cross-class and cross-cultural communication’. May Jack Condon write many more and the company deliver them; it’s the sort of uplifting theatre we need.