Winter of Our Discotheque

Autistic, severely depressed and with inadequate provision for her, Tess Humphrey left school at the age of thirteen. Two years laters she had written Winter of Our Discotheque, an extraordinary play with an equally unusual origin. At York university she teamed up with Laura Stratford and founded Tambourgi Productions, revised her original script and brought it to the stage.

It is a comedy, a black comedy, a tragedy and a social commentary, naturalistic yet surreal: some of the things you might expect if you crossed St Trinian's with Lord of the Flies.

The play doesn’t fit comfortably into any category. It is a comedy, a black comedy, a tragedy and a social commentary, naturalistic yet surreal: some of the things you might expect if you crossed St Trinian's with Lord of the Flies.

The action takes place in a two-bed dormitory at The Hastings, a public school for the sons and daughters of the rich and aristocratic that is either intentionally liberal or inadequately supervised. Alex occupies one bed and the other seems to be the domain of Mama, the head girl, but is destined for habitation by Laurie. The story tells the tale of these troubled teens during their final year. If at this stage you think you’ve heard it all before, then you’re in for shock. As they say, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Laurie has multiple social and psychological issues to deal with. He is alienated from society and finds nothing odd in his extreme behaviour. As he sees it, given his circumstances, who would not behave as he does? Andy Lake gives a mesmeric and chilling performance combined with deadpan humour.

Rhys Hayes achieves a remarkable feat in sustaining his portrayal of the perpetually inebriated, drugged-up aristocratic Alex, surely one of the most difficult things to do on stage with credibility. If Laurie’s case is sad, then that of Alex is tragic. As the drink and the drugs take over, so his world disintegrates. The process is gradual and Rhys shows the decline in carefully measured stages, adding excessive behaviour incrementally to his performance.

Meanwhile, Mama, another spoiled child, is trying to cope with both of them, but living in her own world of pretence and removed from the realities of life she is unable to save either of them. Lauren Moakes brings a sense of almost-normality to Mama, though normality in this Ortonesque context is somewhat skewed. Certainly much of the humour rests on her shoulders as both instigator and foil to the two boys, enhanced collectively by perfect pauses and timing.

This is a play so full of issues and content that at times we are left wondering how many more things will be thrown into the melting pot and whether we are charging headlong into the theatre of the absurd. It’s a demanding evening for actors and audience alike. The fresh air outside was much needed but we’d also had a breath of it inside in this remarkable, mind-boggling play. 

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

From the award-winning writer of The Prince of Humberside comes a darkly comic school story for the 21st century. Described as St Trinian's crossed with Lord of the Flies, Winter of Our Discotheque follows three misguided teens through their final year at disreputable public school The Hastings. Think you know this story? Think again. ‘A brave and exciting new play ... something rather special’ (Vision).

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