Steel Tumbleweed – Courtyard Theatre, London

Writer and Director: Dan Dawes
Reviewer: Heather Deacon

New playwrights have been given an absolute wealth of new subjects (however familiar) to write about nowadays given all the tragedy, political chaos and despair of recent times. Dan Dawes’Steel Tumbleweed grasps this by using the Bridgend suicides of 2009 as a catalyst to address the desperation of the young today, as our government seems to be taking away the little hope left with high tuition fees and cuts in public services among many, many other things.

The dark play is a strong starter, with well-timed comedy right up until that awful moment we realise it just isn’t funny anymore and the subject matter kicks in. All four characters have that beautiful English way of laughing at their own anguish whether it be University, love or just general hopelessness at the heart of it. The quite rightly anonymously named cast all portrayed teens I swear I’ve met before – Boy 1 is anyone’s 18-year-old brother, squirming and slightly afraid of outside; Girl 1 is so excited with the whole prospect of boys; Boy 2 is that optimistic lad who will one day think Jager in half a pint of Guinness is a good idea, and Girl 2 is the one that should do well as she seems to be the only one trying.

A strong starter, yes… as the play begins its conclusion, the rush seems to be on. Boy 2, who says nothing intelligent up until this point, begins a monologue about the over-availability of sex and violence, how they merge and how people will want to experience the euphoria of a near death experience while they orgasm… this from a lad who found a vlogger audience of nine exciting? Jeanluca Murphy held his own with the material, keeping that laddish exterior of the character he built at the forefront and refusing to let the philosopher out. Hannah Hughes’ Girl 1 suddenly despises the Christian faith – which apparently made her a goth.

Teens having theories is one thing, but giving a bunch of kids, who seemed so consumed by themselves for the first two-thirds of the play, such soapbox lines seemed odd – though not as odd as the speech at the end by Hiral Varsani’s Girl 2… a speech that sounded nothing like Girl 2, but instead just reiterated everything the play had already communicated in layman’s terms. There was a lot of unnecessary over-exposition; a sign of a new and very gifted writer not trusting himself, perhaps.

Gifted performers working with promising writing is always a good thing – the audience wasn’t put off by the slight fall from terrific and left feeling rightly reflective, if a little glum. Not a show to lift one’s mood, but perhaps a show to open one’s eyes.

Runs until 23 July 2016 | Image: Contributed

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