This young company from The Theatre School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent brings an array of engaging, emotional, and believable performances to Dennis Kelly’s gritty play. Charting the unlikely turmoil of a group of youths who find themselves in the midst of a terrible crime and their efforts to prove their innocence,
A thoroughly gripping and tension-filled production.
With an age range of sixteen to eighteen years, the cast is a perfect fit for portraying the adolescent thinking of Kelly’s characters. Married to this immediate plus point is the fact that the play-text has undergone some fairly serious editing in order to fulfil the venue timing requirements. The result of this is that we are left with a plot highly focused on the resolution of the dilemma with even less time to pause for breath than in Kelly’s original.
On this occasion, the performance took a little bit of time to get going, though Charlie Morpeth’s convincing portrayal of the physically imposing John provided the energetic impetus required to immerse us into the seriousness of the play. His role as the intimidating leader of the gang offers the opportunity for us to respond to the array of other, less vocal, characters - those who reveal aspects of themselves through their well-defined reactions. It is credit to the direction of the piece, and to the discipline of the actors, that they do all remain in the moment and respond and react appropriately throughout.
It is an unfortunate consequence of the abridgements that not all characters are able to undergo the development that in other circumstances they might. Further, in this particular performance there was a feeling that some characters were more truthfully drawn than others and it is with those that we find ourselves empathising more readily.
Among a talented ensemble cast there are a few stand out performances. Nessie Burns, as Leah, demonstrates a dextrous ability to articulately and convincingly grapple with Kelly’s language, dealing impressively with a subtly complex character. Toby Cornwell also plays the unsettlingly quiet Phil, particularly in the early stages, with a level of intensity that creates much of the piece’s needed tension. Special mention also to Izzy Goacher’s threatening Cathy, whose penetrating stare says a thousand words!
As the run progresses, I’m sure that the slight dips in energy which currently sporadically occur will iron themselves out, leaving a thoroughly gripping and tension-filled production. The slick timings and solid characterisation of the performers ensure that this is a piece well worth seeing.