That old adage about school days being the best of your life probably doesn’t ring as true for as many people as you would like to think. For teenagers navigating the social spectrum, while at the same time discovering their own personality, it can be a traumatic experience. Kenneth Emson’s Plastic at The Old Red Lion Theatre, delves deep in to these psychological aspects, resulting in an intoxicating thriller which captivates its audience.
Best friends, Ben and Jack aren’t part of the popular group, and they rely on each other to get through each and every day. As “live in each other’s skin mates” their closeness is both a blessing and a curse. Lisa used to be friends with them, but she’s more often found with the ‘cool’ kids now and has an older boyfriend too. He used to be Captain of the football team, but now that his school-boy celebrity has faded, he realises life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The main thrust of Plastic’s story is set in an Essex school, sometime in the nineties, but we’re never really there with them, the story is told in snippets, like memories or dreams, and references to events from the new millennium make it clear we are looking back. This also explains the deviceful casting, which sees two of the protagonists as older players, while the other two remain trapped, forever in their school uniforms.
Emson’s writing is hypnotically poetic, it’s supposedly inspired by his love of garage music, not a passion I share, but yet I found myself transfixed on each and every word, beguiled by the flawless delivery, particularly from Mark Weinman’s Kev. It’s true that in the myriad of words, large parts of the story are left untold, and the audience are left to connect the dots at certain junctures, but Josh Roche’s skillful direction helps us out somewhat with sideways glances, simple movements, or school-yard scuffles painting a picture worth a thousand words. (continued…)
Sophie Thomas and Peter Small are responsible for beautiful staging, the relatively simple set is complimented through the dynamic use of lighting. Singular light bulbs hang from bare wires suspended on tracks. This allows the lights to be slid, both gently and aggressively, across the stage, creating mini-worlds for the characters to inhabit, the bulbs change colour with the moods, and the overall effect is magical.
Thomas Coombes plays Ben with just the right level of intensity, drawing the audience in with passionate mini-monologues which set much of the context for the entire play. As Jack, Louis Greatorex makes you feel like the only person in the room, this character is particularly complex and it takes the immense skill demonstrated by Greatorex to pull it off effectively.
Madison Clare is exceptional, balancing the tough-girl attitude with the vulnerability of the character, making it a joy to see the character develop. As the play reaches its climax, the writing, staging, and outstanding performances from Clare and Greatorex, combine to make their final scene together theatrical perfection.
The mirror-ball opening, with a beautifully romantic soundtrack tricks us in to believing we are about to see a Disney fairy-tale, and isn’t that how all children imagine their lives will turn out? But for most of us it never happens, and being a thriller, there is of course a twist to this tale. When it came, I physically recoiled in shock, unable to believe I hadn’t seen it coming, although as I reflected back, it was clear the signs were all there. With great writing, fantastic direction, and stunning performances, Plastic is truly a magnificent piece of modern theatre.