Writer: Samuel Bailey
Director: George Turvey
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Shook is a remarkable debut play from Samuel Bailey which won the Papatango New Writing Prize and ran for three weeks at Southwark Playhouse before a short UK tour. One performance in the smaller McCarthy Auditorium at the Stephen Joseph Theatre was the only Yorkshire date. Given the quality of the writing and performance, an extension or repeat of the tour seems likely.
One long act (officially 90 minutes, approximately 100 at Scarborough) Shook is vividly written and at times very entertaining, but carries a powerful message about the hopelessness of lives for damaged inmates of a Young Offenders Institute. The bleakly realistic scene is a classroom where a parenting class periodically takes place. Three 16- and 17-year-olds are very different people, but have two things in common: they have committed a serious crime and they all are fathers – or about to become so.
Much of the time they talk, argue, threaten or provoke each other, play board games, swap sweets: at times seeming hardened criminals, at times normal kids. The exception is Jonjo, introverted, haunted by his past, but, in his occasional speeches, a seemingly much gentler creature: his first two comments tell us he misses his dog and his mum likes horoscopes. From time to time Grace takes a class: Andrea Hall convincingly calm, sympathetic, wanting to help, but ultimately unable to understand their world.
Josh Finan’s virtuoso performance as Cain sets the play going with what is practically a monologue to the passive new arrival Jonjo. Finan was involved in the original development of the play and he inhabits the character completely, a Scouse motormouth, a fantasist who sees himself as the local hard man , full of misdirected physical energy, pushing others to the limit, backing off when they reach it. Illiterate, a serial offender from the age of 12, he yet has the insight to explain to Grace the hopelessness of their case: “It’s too late. It’s all already happened.”
In reality the hard man is Riyad who has just returned after two weeks in a different wing following a violent incident. Ivan Oyik conveys a feeling of danger from his first entrance, but also an intelligence and sense of responsibility far beyond Cain. He is the one who storms out of the first lesson (“having a strop”, as Cain, eager for him to get into trouble, puts it), but he is also the one seriously pursuing qualifications in Mathematics and the one whose observations on parenthood are most thoughtful.
Josef Davies’ Jonjo progresses from hunched non-communication to a slightly more confident shyness, still desperately isolated from his girlfriend whose parents will allow no contact, but touchingly concerned about what will happen to Cain and Riyad. The turning point is his only long speech when he enters, hesitantly tells the story of his crime and then goes out – it is predictably awful.
George Turvey’s production is particularly strong on the interaction between characters, both in speech and in movement. Watch Cain’s macho posturing disappear as he deferentially gives space to Riyad on his first entrance and you already know most of what there is to know about their relationship.
Tour concludes at Marlowe Studio, Canterbury 4 – 7 Dec | Image: contributed