“It is not possible to obtain any As or Bs in this paper,” drones the teacher’s pre-recorded voice. “If you work really hard, with a lot of luck, you might get a C. But you probably won’t.”
The C/D Borderline is a nuanced and richly detailed coming-of-age story
The latest solo show from spoken word artist Paul Cree is as beautifully well-observed as it is blisteringly funny. It takes place in the hellish world of male adolescence, a world reeking of Lynx Africa, where frail bravado hides a constant, crippling fear of social exclusion. It’s a world of coded distinctions: college vs 6th form, jungle vs indie, the D grade that means unemployment vs the C grade that could open the doorway to a job as a junior sales rep at a shop in Gatwick Airport.
Cree completely inhabits his (possibly autobiographical) character, a struggling student at a third-rate college. He and his friends are all studying towards GNVQs, “but none of us knows what that stands for.” In his hip-hop-inflected monologue, Cree manages the difficult balancing act of creating gripping, articulate poetry without compromising his young character’s tongue-tied voice. When a beautiful girl makes it clear she’s interested in him, all he can summon up in reply is: “Yeah, I’ll, uh, like… go out with you, innit.” But the awkward kiss that follows – his first – is brilliantly captured in a series of off-beat similes: “We start to sync like those weird pulsating starfish at Brighton sealife centre.”
Like his peer-group, he’s so afraid of saying the wrong thing that he just parrots his friends’s comments back at them: in one scene, they sit around repeating “yeah, yeah, sick, yeah,” at each other in an endless feedback loop. Cree’s clear-eyed recreation of the awfulness of teenage life may leave you wincing in recognition.
His total dedication to his character’s voice means he occasionally finds himself trapped at the same pitch and delivery, which slows the pace of a few of his slice-of-life vignettes. For the most part, however, it’s a bravura performance that deserves to reach a far larger audience. The C/D Borderline is a nuanced and richly detailed coming-of-age story, the diary of the kind of kid who Adrian Mole would cross the road to avoid.
To put it more succinctly: it’s well sick, mate, yeah?