Take a look at some of the successful people who make it to the top, and you won’t be searching too long until you find someone who lacks the experience or qualifications to do the job properly, but have made it through on bravado alone. Judy Upton’s Confidence gets a long-awaited revival at Southwark Playhouse courtesy of Boundless Theatre, who brought us Natives in the same space last year.
The seaside resort feels like it could be frozen in time, but the play is actually set in the nineties (check out the Nokia 2110) and it screams tacky, cheap and neon – everything we loved about the decade. In some end-of-the-pier amusement park, a whole word exists, just like a soap opera, everyone is confined to this little bubble. A host of characters, many never seen, make up this eco-system of inhabitants, too bound up in their own world to realise they are trapped.
The owner (Lace Akpojaro) returns from prison to find that Ben (Rhys Yates) hasn’t been keeping things running quite as smoothly as he would have hoped. But things really start to liven up with arrival of Ella, this teenage wheeler-dealer will say and do anything to get what she wants. But, what does she want? She seems to think there are plenty of options, and she’s building her empire one step at a time, cheating the slot machines and running boat trips, even if she has to use inflatable dolphins on motors to give the punters what they want.
Tanya Burr, already a celebrity in her own right, makes her stage debut as Ella. Burr definitely oozes confidence, strutting around the stage like a proud peacock, she gives the character that kind of cocky assurance that throws others off their guard. It becomes pretty obvious though that Burr lacks the experience to fully pull this role off. It’s a difficult one, a cross between Del Boy and Francis Urquhart, but Burr sits firmly in the middle never moving in one direction or the other, leaving the audience rather disinterested in Ella’s exploits.
Also making his stage debut, Will Pattle is an absolute joy to watch. He takes the character of Dean and layers in all the quirks of a teenage boy left to fester in an isolated community, one minute he’s full of gormless charm, the next he’s surprising us with the intensity of his performance. It is with Pattle that we see the talented young performer that Boundless is known for nurturing.
Anna Crichlow brings comic relief with the role of uptight Ruby, the characters desire for cleanliness overshadowed by the fact she’s keeping a dead hamster in the freezer, gives us a much-needed distraction from the more Machiavellian plot lines.
The staging is exquisite, right down to the smallest detail. From the posters in the café to the authentic packaging of the ice cream, there’s no doubt we’re back in the nineties. I found myself wondering where designer, Amelia Jane Harkin, found that awful, neon-squiggles covered carpet, I’m sure my local amusement arcade had one similar! Director Rob Drummer, makes good use of the space, with the Southwark Playhouse’s Little feeling much larger, and the set taking on distinct spaces.
Confidence nails the saucy seaside postcard humour, and the carefully considered staging gives the whole production a beautiful otherworldly feel. The play itself has plenty to keep the audience engaged with meaty themes which have proved timeless, but in this production there just feels like there’s something missing, it’s like we’ve made it to the end of the pier only to find the ice cream cart is closed, or maybe they just ran out of Flakes.