James Hogan’s High Ridin’ receives its premiere production at The King’s Head Theatre, directed by Peter Darney. An unlikely love story set in the West Pennine Moors, it sees three characters who all have different motivations brought together in surprising circumstances.
Fresh out of prison, Stan returns to the filthy and dilapidated guest house, without electricity, which has been bequeathed to him by his recently deceased father, only to find Aunt Ivy helping herself to the family silver. But Stan’s not alone, having cruised the M6 he’s picked up an 18-year-old boy, Ronnie who’s subsequently passed out thanks to an overdose of Spice.
Stan knows he can’t risk going back to prison, and seeing the straight-laced and religious Aunt Ivy brings back memories of his father calling him an abomination, “the runt in a litter of one”. Ronnie is also on the run, but from London life, he’s business savvy and wants to find a job in Blackpool, these three characters all find themselves out of their comfort zone, trying to piece back together their lives, but do they need each other to do it?
Despite a running time of only sixty-five minutes, the characters in High Ridin’ are both built up and explored in detailed intricacy, almost without you even realising it’s happening. Ivy is certainly more astute than you might automatically give her credit for, and both Stan and Ronnie reveal hidden depths which go beyond their perceived stereotype.
Linda Beckett navigates the role of Ivy through the drastic change in attitude, but with a subtlety which allows you to warm to the character at your own pace. Tom Michael Blyth does a fantastic job of portraying Stan as the gruff ‘straight-acting’ security guard whose emotional scars are brought to the surface as the play progresses, while Chi-Cho Tche gives a masterful performance as troubled-teen Ronnie.
There are moments when the pace drops slightly, meaning that the momentum of the play resembles one of the Pleasure Beach rollercoasters that Ronnie is obsessed with, just when you think everything that could be said has been said, it’s all turned on its head. Around the same time the guest house has its electricity restored, a lightbulb moment appears for the audience and we finally appreciate what this play is trying to tell us.
High Ridin’ is a riveting and surprisingly emotional drama which looks at the setting aside of old differences, and prejudices, in order to move forward, and take a leap in to the unknown. It’s beautifully written and directed with a cast who have no fear in surfacing their characters deepest fears.