Showing @ Pleasance Courtyard 23, 25, 27, 29 Aug, 15:25 50m
There are two kinds of social-realist dramas, those that connect the action to a wider sociological context, thus implicating political structures in the process, and those that treat the hardships of the underclass as some kind of spontaneous, self-originating phenomenon. The former can be a deeply provocative cry for the alleviation of social inequities, while the latter can never be more than gruelingly entertaining, scarcely deserving to be called ‘realist’ at all. Returning to Edinburgh, Reuben Johnson’s 2009 Fringe hit belongs distinctly to the latter category.
The theatrical equivalent of films like Kidulthood, it tells the story of dysfunctional teen Ashley (played with stroppy, stomping angst by Johnson himself) who, crumbling under the heavy emotional baggage of his recently deceased mother, vents his frustration through the aggressive domination of his friends. But when his authority is threatened by the arrival of Jamie (Matthew Landers), who clawed his way out of the estate to study music at Oxford, things soon turn ugly.
A vibrant if heavy-handed message play that’s aimed squarely at kids, Johnson deserves credit for squaring up to important issues with theatrical fervour. The characters are distinct and colourful, and though there might be a fair whiff of stereotype, it’s not uncommon to find real teens inhabiting such one-dimensional roles. What’s disappointing, however, is that Johnson wants to blame the proceedings on all the usual suspects; the violent characters are invariably under the influence of drugs, the dead mother makes an unsubtle metaphor for absentee parents, and Jamie’s character type embodies the resilient Tory myth that, if individuals really want to escape poverty, they could do so if they would only adopt the self-reliant attitude (which is a bit like saying because some people who play the lottery win, everyone does). There’s no hint that perhaps a transformation of political conditions might help these kids, no attempt to convey how stiflingly limited life-choices inform their hardships. But with passion and an impressive ear for the irksome idiom of adolescence, Johnson may prove to be a gifted dramatist, if only he escapes the parochial ideology that ensnares him.
A little taster….