by Gareth Farr.

Tour to 29 October 2015.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 October at Swan Street Studio Manchester.

Vivid and urgent drama.
This is one of two successful northern England stage premieres last year, involving Blackpool and given a new production in the region in 2015. Gareth Farr’s play, a prizewinner in the Royal Exchange’s annual Bruntwood playwriting competition, has an entirely new cast, plus new director and designer.

But the Lancashire resort here remains down-at-heel, a place deserted by history, where Scouse hoodies deal drugs, and Carl’s dad retreats from adult responsibilities to build a model railway in his shed. Mum, for Carl, is a missing presence and would-be affectionate young Goldie arouses neither passion nor interest in the teenage lad.

Clearly, he’s got to get out of the place, if it’s the last thing he ever does. And it might not be far off, given that salvation comes in joining the British army. As this year’s Carl, Luke Roskell, slouches discontentedly round the stage at the start, there’s little sense he’ll soon be shouted, hurried and thrust into armed battle with the British forces in Afghanistan.

Dan Bird’s touring production remains in the Round, keeping the increasingly fast-paced, urgent action a vivid presence for the audience, with no space for artificial theatricality. If anything, this revival comes across even more directly than the 2014 premiere (also in the Round). And it accommodates Carl’s verse-making. At first this is a manner of expressing disgust with his life and environment. But he’s not the first poetry-writer to find the demands of war changing what they have to say, or the manner of saying it.

Yet the army that pulls him together then tears him apart, so that, back on leave, he searches-out the drug dealing duo to find one’s banged-up, the other’s cleaned-up his life. Combat pressures have taken Carl both ways at once, the depressing sands of Blackpool set against the hot, injury and death-strewn sands of Afghanistan.

Other characters come and go as illustrations of Carl’s life and state of mind while Roskell whirls us through a life of boredom replaced by shock, in Farr’s detailed and individual account of how it is for someone who’s young, poor and dispossessed.

Goldie/Carl’s Mum: Mandip Gill.
Carl’s Dad/Lieutenant Thompson: Fergus O’Donnell.
Bilko: Bryan Parry.
Carl Jackson: Luke Roskell.

Director: Dan Bird.
Designer: Louie Whitemore.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Army consultant: Oliver Devoti.

2015-10-12 11:31:07

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