Writer: Luke Norris
Director: Steven Atkinson
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Southend and the Thames Estuary are proving to be fertile hunting grounds for HighTide. A couple of years ago Vickie Donoghue’s Mudlarks explored the desire of Essex youth to escape the confines of the estuary and now Luke Norris’ So Here We Are also looks at a trapped generation.
For Norris, though, the location is somewhat immaterial. This tragic look at lost youth and the aftermath of a life cut short could resonate anywhere in the country, what is key is the silences and the inability to truly express your thoughts.
Four Essex lads look decidedly uncomfortable clad in black suits and ties atop a shipping container on the banks of the Thames. They could easily pass as bouncers, but the shiny suits aren’t the only thing that is uncomfortable. They’ve just been to the funeral of their childhood friend and there’s the unmentionable hanging over them – how and why did he die?
It’s a group that is more used to laddish bravado and banter than talk of funerals and death and it’s a banter that pervades their conversation. No one is really ready to confront the possibility that Frankie’s death may not have been the accident it was, but there’s a tension that can only be broken by that conversation to happen. We never see that resolution, Norris carefully throwing us off track to flash back to a series of encounters with Frankie that may, or may not, shed light on the matter.
Norris has crafted abeautifully constructed piece of writing, that captures the paradox of the closeness of a group who have known each other since childhood but now find themselves somewhat strangers as young adults. Being forced to confront their mortality with a death of a mate is something none expected to have to face so soon and are not emotionally equipped to deal with. There’s plenty of dark humour in Norris’ script and echoes of John Godber (not just in the Bouncers imagery) but also a masterly handling of unspoken grief.
Steven Atkinson’s production for HighTide, in association with Manchester’s Royal Exchange, deliberately plays with the audience’s emotions. We’re left beginning to wonder if this is a comedy or a drama, multiple plot possibilities opening up before us. It’s the perfect mirror for the uncertainty being felt by the characters – joshing and mickey-taking masking their own insecurities and grief. By the time the plot shifts gear into flashback mode, we’re hooked and desperate to know what killed Frankie. Like the best thrillers, the answers are complex and layered.
It’s layered that the company of young actors (Jade Anouka, Daniel Kendrick, Ciaran Owens, Dorian Jerome Simpson, Mark Weinman and Sam Melvin) revel in. Each is a richly drawn and unique individual, but there’s also a sense of a unit, a group of friends slowly being pulled apart by life’s unravelling path. It’s a group that has been touched by sadness and one is left feeling that it’s not just the death of their friend that leaves a melancholy air.
Lily Arnold creates an impressive backdrop to the set, put into motion during the flashback scenes by a pulsating light and sound design by Katherine Williams and Isobel Waller-Bridge.
So Here We Are may start slowly, but the faltering steps are deliberate in echoing the inability to express grief. For the patient viewer, though, there’s reward to be had in a richly detailed examination of frustration, friendship and grief that hits home on multiple levels. Long after the lights slowly fade this powerful piece of writing will stick in the memory.
Runs at HighTide until 20 September before transferring to Manchester’s Royal Exchange on 24 September | Photo Nobby Clark
You can read our interview with Luke Norris here