A few years ago I picked up this book called Elmet (Fiona Mozley) simply because I liked the look of the cover. There was something ‘Darkly Fae’ about it which drew me in. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, its actual contents were not what I was expecting at all. Set in the north of England it was dark, gritty and violent, and yet somewhat mythical at the same time. I only mention this because while watching Scab at the White Bear Theatre I was instantly reminded of it after all these years. Written and directed by Jamie Biddle and Luke Stapleton, there is much of contemporary literary fiction in this piece of theatre.
Leave whatever expectations you have about the plot at the door, as we listen to the single unnamed, and quite likely unreliable, narrator as he leads us through his tale of old veterans with gaping wounds on their foreheads, beautifully crafted wooden boats and pineapples. It sounds funny because it is, but at the same time it is grim, graphic and disturbing. On a surface level, it is the story of a young man helping a lonely elder out of the kindness of his heart. However, when are people’s motivations ever that simple, or that pure?
Monologues, particularly long ones like Scab, are notoriously hard to pull off, but Conor Lowson does so in a way which looks effortless. Not just playing the part of the narrator he slips into the shoes of the mysterious, cranky old man, the bitchy red-headed daughter and even the blind Irish neighbour. There is something dynamic about Lowson’s performance, engaging and very believable and his ability to interact with audience members without disrupting the flow of the narrative is laudable.
The set is minimal and the lighting is dim, which only adds to the atmosphere of grubbiness and poverty that the story portrays. The narrator’s worn tracksuit and unwashed appearance is another device which makes him appear untrustworthy. His movements in the small space, restless and barely contained, make him seem volatile and somewhat dangerous. It’s all carefully choreographed to belie the picture he paints of himself, although even that begins to slip as the narrative reaches its peak.
What’s great about this play is it forces you to dig beneath what is actually being said to discover what really happened. The narrator is with us the entire time but we are forced to spend the entire play piecing together tiny clues as to who he truly is. My only quibble is perhaps it could benefit from being fifteen minutes shorter, but really the extra time our narrator takes to get to his point is in keeping with his character. Scab is a cleverly written piece of theatre which leads its audience through the twists and turns of the human experience and makes us question what it means to be a good person.
Scab is at the White Bear Theatre until 30th April