Writer: Simon Longman
Director: Stef O’Driscoll
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Paines Plough’s incredible pop-up theatre space, The Roundabout, once again lands in Salford fresh from a month’s run in Edinburgh. Every year it brings three brand new plays performed with excellence and Simon Longman’s Island Town continues this welcome trend. For anyone who hasn’t been inside the intimate, capsule-like, theatre in the round space before it is worth going for the experience alone. But with bargain five-pound tickets for some of the most exciting playwriting and acting talent from one of the most electrifying theatre companies in the country, there really is no excuse to be missing out.
Kate, Samantha and Pete are sixteen and stuck. In their small town, they have no hope and no prospects. And when the highlight of their day is drinking stolen, strong cheap cider in the park, Simon Longman’s claustrophobia-inducing, state of the nation play asks some rather probing questions about a disaffected youth and the ambitions beyond the circumstances born into. Pete, a new uncle to his vicious older brother’s child, simply yearns for a family himself, or at least the courage to ask out the girl from the supermarket. Samantha, a stand-in mother to her younger sister, has given up dodging the beatings from her drunken father. And Kate, the most disturbed of the three, is carer to her terminally ill father and longs to be anywhere other than where she finds herself – anywhere other than the small town she has never left.
Simon Longman presents us with really quite a bleak subject matter, but the play never wallows in melancholy or victimisation. Instead, Longman gives us three characters who really crave only one thing in life – love. And into their mouths he brings dialogue straight from any teenage gang you may find hanging around a street corner or park bench. Kate especially will drink anything or take anything she can get her on hands but all three are extremely fragile creatures desperate for change. For Sam, Kate and Pete the horizon is an awfully long way away.
The three actors, Charlotte O’Leary (Sam) Jack Wilkinson (Pete) and Katherine Pearce (Kate) are superb. As is the style with much of Paines Plough’s work in this theatre space the play is extremely fast, with overlapping dialogue and short snappy scenes. There is never a missed beat between the actors who are onstage for the full hour. From the very outset, Katherine Pearce’s Kate is angry, bursting with frustration, spilling bile about her life. One would think that this would leave her with nowhere to go and indeed it seems that way halfway through the play. But Pearce then finds another gear and her portrayal of Kate becomes sensational. Her fragility is always at the heart, no matter how loud she shouts or what language comes out of her mouth. It is a performance that is emotionally exhausting to watch, never mind perform.
Writing specifically for this theatre space, Longman’s Island Town has a Trueman Show like quality. Several references are made to the town’s ring road that seems to encapsulate it like a bubble that can never burst. The intimate nature of the theatre with its close proximity of actor to audience amplifies the play’s suffocating feel. And Longman’s cyclical script alludes to an incapability of generations to break the trappings of the small town mentality. Island Town is a play that doesn’t tread any new ground but is told with genuine heart.
Running until 9 September 2018 | Image: Contributed