Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Theatre review: Bottleneck

Songs from the jauntier end of 1980s pop as a teenager chalks graffiti onto the back wall heralds what will actually turn out to be rather a dark show in Luke Barnes' Bottleneck, directed by Steven Atkinson. Greg (James Cooney) is 14, and a huge Liverpool fan. It's 1989 and Greg is going through the usual teenage problems, trying to figure out how to deal with girls, scrape some money together for football tickets, and getting grounded by his dad, an outspoken trade union leader. His slightly fey best friend Tom is an Everton fan but it doesn't get in the way of their shared rebellious streak. When Tom surprises him with football tickets, Greg's 15th birthday goes from the best day of his life to the worst as they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There's a lot of drama about people recovering from adversity and gaining strength from their experience, but Barnes' monologue deals with the less palatable fact that sometimes a tragic event can derail someone's life permanently. It's given a more emotionally devastating punch by the lively and likeable - even if his idea of fun tends to be closer to crime than high-jinks - Greg we meet in the first half of the play.

Cooney gives a powerful performance, that brings a lot of humour in Greg's teenage confusions, crushes and odd preoccupation with tea-cakes, as well as his taking on all the other characters, from the lisping Tom and sassing Sarah-Jane, to Greg's dad - though I'm not sure if the latter's sounding like Ringo Starr was intentional or not. He's equally good once the major event (Barnes' script has a nice red herring early on to avoid spoiling it) takes its devastating toll and makes you genuinely worry for the characters. A bleak coda delivers a final sucker-punch in a story that crams in a lot about a city, it's people, and the hopes of an entire section of society, packaged in a powerful play with a gripping performance.

Bottleneck by Luke Barnes is booking until the 9th of March at Soho Theatre Upstairs; then touring to Oxford, Watford, Colchester, Folkestone, Canterbury and Norwich.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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