THEATRE cannot and will not survive unless there is a steady flow of bristling new talent – and bold theatres out there prepared to back budding actors, directors and playwrights.
So it is refreshing to see The Old Red Lion Theatre take a gamble on Maisie Brooker who with Joshua Elliott has just set up a new theatre company Top Of The Hill Productions. The first egg laid by the company is Shanter, a play written by Brooker who also stars in it. A gamble which works, almost spectacularly.
Shanter, slang for shit banter, is a play that revolves around childhood friendships and their fragility as adulthood looms. It is about love, self-confidence (or the lack of it) and peer pressure to be one of the lads or girls.
Set at a music festival where alcohol and drugs change hands freely and regularly, five friends meet after going their separate ways post school. There is Berty (Jordan Clarke), the only one who has made it to university. He is as fragile as a leaf in autumn, needy (cannot stop ringing his mother) and is constantly seeking approval from his peers – even if it means carrying out acts that shame him. He is not quite a lad. More on the fringe and prone to bullying from his university mates.
Then there is Hamish (Cameron Fraser), a dead ringer for a young David Tennant and in the middle of a course in computer sciences and cyber security. He is worthy, highly strung and has the proverbial hots for Amber (Maisie Brooker) who is trying to carve out a career as a singer. It is tough, she says, being an average middle class white girl and trying to cut it as a singer. Especially if you are average looking. Diversity has its losers.
In turn, Amber still has feelings for Noah (a tall, good looking Conor Delaney) who, much to Hamish’s annoyance, suddenly upped sticks two and a half years ago and moved to America. In so doing, he left Amber in the lurch. Completing the pack of friends is Sam (a bubbly Eden Stewart). She is a bit of a Ladette who drinks like an almighty fish, chunders on a regular basis, likes her sex and is prone to relieving herself on (not in) other people’s sleeping bags.
Their coming together sparks more than a drinking and drug binge. The passion that burnt between Amber and Noah is reignited even though Noah has found unconsummated love in the States. It causes a friendship meltdown that results in Berty (the easily led astray Berty) carrying out an act on Hamish’s possessions that has unintended tragic consequences. This time, it is the manipulative, lying and rather nasty Noah that eggs him on.
There is plenty of banter (mentions of bellends and erections), lots of drinking (beer and vodka) and drug taking (Mandy and Ketamine). But in amongst it all is a rich vein of humour.
Directed by Elliott, Shanter shines a light on today’s youth culture and the vulnerabilities that afflict many youngsters. They may be having a wild time on the surface but it is not pretty or easy underneath.
Brooker has written a sharp and pacey play (one hour long) full of banter and shanter. The cast, young and zippy, add to the play’s strength. One clever touch. The audience are given wristbands before they enter the theatre as if they themselves are attending a music festival. Bright yellow ones.
Let us hope that it is the first of many from Top Of The Hill Productions. We need more Brookers and Elliotts. And we need more Old Red Lions to back them.