ALL it takes is the time for a light to blink – or an eye to blink – for our lives to be changed irrevocably. For better or for worse.
This is the theme that runs through Plastic, the latest play from BAFTA award-nominated Kenneth Emson (Terrorism and This Must Be The Place).
Based in a small town adjacent to the Thames Estuary, the play centres on the lives of three 15 year old school-friends – Jack, Lisa and Ben – and Kev, a recent school-leaver. While Lisa (a delightful Madison Clare) is looking forward to having sex with Kev (Mark Weinman), Jack (Louis Greatorex) and Ben (a powerful Thomas Coombes) are fighting off school bullies. More Ben than Jack – the latter being a truly loyal friend.
Ben in particular is struggling to deal with bully Tony Wicks (a menace we never see but whose presence is everywhere) who says he will beat him up unless he is given money.
Jack, loyal as ever, says he is happy to steal money from his mother’s purse to keep the marauding Wicksy at bay. Ben appears to be on the verge of imploding, prone to muttering the names of schools in the United States where past shootings have taken place.
Ben hides a scalpel in his trousers. Will he seek a violent bloody revenge on Wicksy?
Yet the play does not quite go where you think it is heading. When Lisa, Jack and Ben meet up – ahead of Lisa’s rendezvous with ex-school football captain Kev (wanted when at school by Tottenham Hotspur) – the outcome is a horrible one. It involves plastic and it is not particularly pleasant.
The play flits between Ben and Jack as school kids and then at the end as adults in their mid-30s. We also see Lisa talk about her ‘life’ post school – onward and upwards to university. What could have been, rather than what happened? Just the blink of a light – and someone’s life is changed forever. Kev meanwhile flits between his late teens (and the excited anticipation of sex) and a man drifting along in his late 30’s.
Plastic is not easy fare. It is all rather stark and bleak – and set against a dark backdrop with the play’s contents sandwiched in between the sound of Vaughan Williams’s rousing Fantasia on a Theme.
The conversations and themes are linked by overhanging light bulbs that are pushed along tramways so they shine in front of the actor just about to speak. More often than not, they blink. Red, green and blue.
This is clever and effective but the play’s nonlinear timeline does confuse matters a little. A jigsaw of a play that requires a little unscrambling.
The acting cannot be faulted with Clare (making her professional debut) and Coombes, occasionally boiling over with venom and anger, excelling.
Plastic is smartly directed by Josh Roche – with important contributions from Sophie Thomas (designer), Peter Small (lighting) and Kieran Lucas (sound).
Intriguing stuff from the pen of Emson. Smart, provocative but not truly 100 per cent wholesome.
Plastic runs at The Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, London until April 21: For more info