I’m somewhat sceptical of companies bringing classic plays to the Fringe, be it an average Hamlet or yet another Woyzeck. Will this famous play, performed so often, have anything new to say? Will it move beyond another student shambles? I was flatly bored by the last Mojo I saw, spoiled by the ‘mockney’, but I read and enjoyed the script, so thought this could be the redeemer. It absolutely was.
The actors effectively embraced the entirety of the space.
Grey Carnal Studio’s production of Butterworth’s dark comedy, set in a gang-festered Soho, 1958, was extremely strong. The play began before we sat down as characters interacted with audience members filing into an intimate space, before Sweet’s and Sidney’s cacophony of speech ensued. The actors effectively embraced the entirety of the space. Ashley Mapley-Brittle’s robust direction was evident as they moved beyond the stage, utilising scaffold and empty seats. Despite knowing the plot, I was so immersed in their performance that I found myself surprised by the end of the play. I couldn’t think beyond each moment. The eighty minutes went by in what felt comfortably under an hour.
The dynamic between Baby and the rest of the characters was riveting. Despite Mickey’s dominating presence, not only due to his enormous physique but also the way he owned the room, his authority was ardently challenged. The tension between the two felt spontaneous and volatile; this Baby fed off fear as his distinct voice commanded and intimidated. This version was also thematically creative through the compelling gender swaps applied to Sweets and Skinny. Baby’s supposedly playful yet fundamentally aggressive misogynism explains why Skinny feels so unsafe, so wary within her own workplace.
For the first half of the play, Sidney felt like the only weak link. During his duologue with his double-act Sweets, the two of them spoke rapidly.Yet one can speak fast without whittling off lines in an inaudible fashion; Sweets achieved this, contributing to her exceptional performance. Regrettably, Sidney did not, and sometimes his lines were lost. Despite this, his characterisation was, for the most part, strong. This year is the companies debut in Edinburgh; what a debut it's been.