A good story is surely one that absolutely demands to be told. It is difficult to reconcile this with Sophie Swithinbank’s Bacon, a story that appears tangled and unnecessary, as well as a poor representation of the ages it purports to represent.
Tangled and unnecessary, as well as a poor representation of the ages it purports to represent
The untangled version of the story is (I think) this. Darren is disadvantaged, with an abusive father and an inclination towards aggression. Mark is more timid, devoted to his pet Labrador Barney. Both are born on the same day, both uncertain of their sexuality. The two become friends of a sort at school, meeting in Year ten. They go for a ride on a stolen bike. Away from prying eyes, they flirt. But things go rapidly downhill and the consequences, explored through the play, are profound for both boys.
The story is told primarily through monologues from the two boys, and this device serves to pull them further and further apart, with minimal interaction between them. This makes it very hard to believe in any sort of authentic relationship between them. The action takes place at various different time periods but little in the staging helps us understand what age they are supposed to be at each point.
And age is a big problem for me in the characterisations. The production is apparently put together by a string of people in their late 20s or older - the writer, the director, two 29 year old professional actors. This makes it challenging (although not impossible) for them to capture the essence of a pair of Year ten students (aged 14-15). I don’t think they succeed in that challenge. Darren and Mark might have some credibility as Year 11s but we are firmly told that they are in Year ten, and there is a big difference. For example, Mark says at one point “this could come up in the mock exams” - every teacher knows that this is a comment from a Year 11 and not a Year ten. Darren says “I’m tired to my bones” - Year 13 yes, Year ten no. They are portrayed as too aware, too knowing, without the innocent calculation and repetition for effect that one sees with this age group.
The lack of attention to detail annoys me too. Darren is described as smoking a cigarette but he isn’t. The same boy is described as having dirty shirt cuffs but his sleeves are rolled up. It all undermines the credibility of the central trauma.
Designer Natalie Johnson’s set centres on a large seesaw, opening up interesting staging possibilities. Her decision to adopt green school blazers jars with me for personal reasons but works for the production. The lighting is simple but powerful, the sounds add interestingly to the action at each stage. But none of this rescues the core drama for me.
Corey Montague-Sholay, who trained at Bristol Old Vic and here presents Mark, offers considerable presence and intensity. At times, his innocence convinces. LAMDA alumnus William Robinson (Darren) plays the delinquent well, although resorts to shouting rather too much for my taste. HFH Productions has recruited two good young actors here. I just wish they had been given a more resonant story to tell.