Finborough Theatre, London – until 26 March 2022
The bar for fringe theatre sensation of 2022 has already been set astonishingly high by this firecracker of a show. Not since the original 1990 production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing at the Bush (which featured a pre-stardom Jonny Lee Miller) have I seen a new play and young actors that come off with the sheer swagger and brilliance of Sophie Swithinbank’s two-hander and the performances of Corey Montague-Sholay and William Robinson.
Montague-Sholay and Robinson play Mark and Darren, a pair of London teenagers from markedly different backgrounds – the former is decidedly middle class while the latter comes from a family whose hardscrabble lifestyle exists at the boundaries of criminality and brutality – who form, through necessity, an unexpected alliance at school. If Swithinbank’s script has a flaw, it’s that it’s one doesn’t immediately believe that these profoundly contrasting young men would ever become friends. Once you’ve bought it into it though (and you will, largely because of the extraordinary performances) strap in for the ride. And what a ride it is.
Swithinbank’s writing is muscular, street-smart, hilarious, unflinching as she refracts toxic masculinity, peer pressure, social inequality, and pent-up, unarticulated sexuality through the intense, breathless prism of youth. There is a forensic precision to her observations, but also great warmth, humanity and heartbreak. The young men play out contrasting mini-monologues simultaneously but the effect is galvanising rather than confusing.
Matthew Iliffe’s laser-sharp production helps immeasurably with this, potently demonstrating the power of simplicity and the kinetic charge of excitement that happens when rigorous discipline and a wondrous freedom of expression are allowed to play together. There are moments here that take the breath away with their sheer invention and emotional honesty. Natalie Johnson’s exquisitely spare set (a giant seesaw sits and swings centre-stage, playful but threatening, symbolising childhood, but also shifts in power), is complimented by sparse but vivid lighting and sound contributions from Jess Tucker Boyd and Mwen respectively.
I’m not sure there are enough superlatives to shower upon actors Corey Montague-Sholay and William Robinson, except to say that it feels like watching a pair of talents poised on the brink of major stardom. Montague-Sholay invests Mark with an innate niceness and gentle intelligence that makes one completely understand why the traumatised, lonely Darren would see him as a beacon of hope. He deftly, affectingly charts the journey from comparatively untroubled teenager to soulful, damaged young adult. It’s acting of the highest order.
In the slightly showier role of allegedly bad boy Darren, careering so fast down the path to self destruction that he barely has time to slam on the brakes, William Robinson is absolutely astounding. With a face like a bruised cherub, Robinson goes from snarling confrontation to edgy sweetness to aching sadness and back again with a remarkably assured physical and vocal technique. It’s a haunting, thrilling, multi-faceted performance.
If there’s any justice, this devastating production will completely sell out, and ultimately achieve a much longer life. Don’t hang about to get tickets: you’ll have an extraordinary time in the theatre plus, in a few short years, you’ll be able to say that you experienced these world class talents at close quarters and before they became mega-famous. Tender yet in yer face, raw yet accomplished, it’s unmissable. This Bacon is salty but irresistibly tasty.
‘Tender yet in-yer-face, raw yet accomplished, it’s unmissable’: @AlunJohnHood is already declaring @bacontheplay at @finborough the play of the year. @CoreyTDD & @wmrobinson_ star in @sswithinbank92’s two-hander. ★★★★ #theatrereviews #newwriting