Writer and director: Niall Ransome
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Sowing seeds of disquiet for us to mix in with our Christmas puddings and mince pies, Niall Ransome’s hour-long monologue, in rhyming verse, provides the perfect antidote to any excess of seasonal spirit. The play is raw and it is real.
Set in northern England during a freezing December, the story follows the hopeless odyssey of a 17- year-old boy and his 7-year-old brother to escape from the younger being taken into care. Their father has abandoned them and their mother is debilitated by alcoholism, but the spirit of family survives in the bond between the brothers. Transported in a stolen car and feeding from the proceeds of shoplifting, they are pursued northwards by the authorities. The boys’ story is far removed from traditional Christmas theatre offerings, except that the writer’s sincere concerns for the underprivileged and undervalued clearly echo those of the supposed inventor of Christmas, Charles Dickens.
Rhymes flow effortlessly, helping to build up the tension of the pursuit and to enrich Ransome’s descriptive writing, particularly in relation to the urban wasteland that the boys normally inhabit. Broken fridges, cars without wheels and abandoned shopping trolleys litter their city. The escape is fuelled by desperation, but mired in confusion and delusion.
As the older boy, Will Mytum’s riveting performance glows with fraternal love and explodes with uncontainable rage. He collects his brother from school, “on parole” at 3.30pm and reflects on an education system that has already failed him, but later expresses optimism that the younger boy will do better. “I want you to trust me, I won’t let you fall. Without you in this world, I have nothing at all” he pleads to his frightened brother, but he seethes with resentment at being cast aside himself and branded a troublemaking failure, screaming “I’m here too!”
Grace Venning’s set design reflects youth and decay in a marked-out playground with dead leaves piled up and Peter Wilson’s slow, sombre music stresses the perils facing the boys. Lighting, designed by Jess Bernberg also plays an important role in Ransome’s vivid staging, day turning into night and vice versa, malfunctioning street lamps flickering and blue flashes from police cars signaling the arrival of a hostile presence. In all, this is a production which jolts us with a stark but necessary reminder that, however cold this Winter gets for us, there are others for whom it will be much colder.
Runs until 30 December 2017 | Andreas Lambis