Bacon, at the Finborough Theatre, showcases the talents of two remarkable young actors in a moving exploration of teenage angst. Though this is billed as its world premiere, it was first developed at the Soho Theatre in 2018, where it won playwright Sophie Swithinbank their prestigious Tony Craze Award.
A moving exploration of teenage angst
Set in Isleworth, West London, it’s Year 10’s first day back at school, making the two boys aged 15. Mark (Corey Montague-Sholay) has transferred from another school, where things weren’t quite what his mother expected for her son’s education. In this fresh start, he comes over as a nervous nerd who is likely to have a difficult time making friends. This is confirmed when the rather scary Darren (William Robinson) appears and in bullying tones, which he almost certainly learned from his aggressive yet slothful father, inquisitively ‘welcomes’ the new student. With little in common, they develop an uneasy relationship of highs and lows, friendship and fear that is complex and manipulative on both sides and which takes them into their early twenties.
The balance of power between them moves like the seesaw that occupies the length of the traverse stage. With blackened walls all around, the great grey plank that is initially tilted upwards is reminiscent of the roof on Vauxhall bus station. This unadorned, one-item set by Natalie Johnson proves to be highly versatile, heightening the dialogue and, when made rigid by unlatching end supports, not only suggests different locations but also the tightrope that both lads walk. Against this blank canvas, lighting director Ryan Joseph Stafford is able to evocatively accentuate interactions, create different settings and alter the mood, especially when combined with the emotive soundscape by Mwen.
Robinson and Montague-Sholay play off each other and portray starkly contrasting characters. Robinson is white; his Darren is streetwise and cocky, speaking estuary English with an ‘in-yer-face’ attitude. Yet much of his brashness is a cover for his feelings of isolation, loneliness and desire to be loved, which surface more as the play progresses and the tables turn. According to his Spotlight profile, Montague-Sholay has the appearance of being black-Caribbean or of mixed race. His manner is relaxed, conformist and polite and he speaks well-articulated standard English. His Mark has all the makings of a goody-goody schoolboy who is bound to receive adverse attention from other students. His feelings towards Darren become his Achilles' heel and the source of the emotional rollercoaster that ensues.
In the dialogues between them, the boys’ interactions are gripping, often humorous, frequently angry and at times touching. However, there are significant portions of the script that consist of narrated events; its as though they each have a copy of the same novel with their own passages to read out loud that describe events at school and at home and conversations with their respective parents, teachers and others. Through no fault of their own, nor indeed that of Matthew Iliffe who has directed with considerable precision, and despite their best efforts, these sections often cause the momentum to be lost.
The play is currently in development for a TV adaptation with a major production company, and it’s easy to see why. Montague-Sholay’s Mark could be straight out of The Inbetweeners, but Darren provides a level of roughness and aggression that would gather a gang of volatile youths around him to provide a very different series.