Luke Norris's Southend-based play and winner of the Bruntwood Prize, So Here We Are, finally comes to Essex in a delightful production that fits perfectly into the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and boasts three local lads in the cast.
Awe-inspiring and moving
Pugh (Omar Austin), Smudge (Matthew Hood) and Pidge (Oliver Yellop) sit on the edge of the promenade dangling their feet above the sand, looking out across the estuary, each dressed differently in combinations of dark suits, white shirts and black ties suiting their personal style. Their mate Dan (Lewis Bruniges) stands apart on the beach, pensive, lighting cigarettes and occasionally moving around before being drawn in to the action.They have just come from the funeral of their friend Frankie (James Trent) and are trying to take in what has happened. Their exchanges form the first half of the play. This is followed by a series of flashback scenes that occurred on Frankie’s last day, which was also his birthday. They each reveal something of the nature of their relationship with him. Kelly (Amy Vicary-Smith), Frankie’s girlfriend, also enters the story at this point and their unusual relationship climaxes in a celebratory dinner that goes disastrously wrong.
Once the opening silence is broken there follows an unrelenting torrent of boyish banter, hackneyed jokes and larking-about that serves to mask their grief and inability to imagine life without Frankie. It all passes with breathtaking momentum and must rank as some of the most difficult dialogue to learn and perform. One word interjections, cut sentences and fast-paced repartee performed with precision attest to the skill of the lads. The language is authentIc and for once I’m not going to bemoan the tirades of expletives that flow from their mouths. It might shock some but it sounds right in context and perfectly natural.
Norris is not a man short of words or at a loss for finding the right vocabulary, he simply understands how lads talk and this cast knows how to deliver the goods. He also knows how to create an air of mystique and it hangs hauntingly over the action, defying definition. It comes from a mix of the doubts surrounding Frankie’s death, the odd relationship he has with Kelly and all the things we are led to suspect, but about which no one talks.
Trent and Vicary-Smith provide a contrast to the earlier laddish behaviour, each conveying the stresses and frustrations that exist in the relationship between Frankie and Kelly. They both suffer under the weight of expectations of how couples are supposed to relate and she has the burden of work to carry and he the pressure of his peers and the couple capture these with passion.
Designer Dora Schweitzer has created a versatile that provides an overarching context yet easily allows for locational changes. It’s enhanced through the moods created by Lighting Designer Douglas Kuhrt and Sound Designer Steve Mayo.
Director Caroline Leslie brings all of this together with Casting Director Matthew Dewsbury’s well-chosen ensemble to create a captivating drama.
The quality of the writing, the talent of the cast and the intensity of the production make So Here We Are a joy to watch. It’s an awe-inspiring and moving, perhaps not enough to makes the hairs rise or the tears flow, but it comes pretty close.