‘What is so good is how it lulls you into a false sense of security’: PLASTIC – Old Red Lion Theatre ★★★★

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Debbie GilpinLeave a Comment

Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 21 April 2018

Poleroid Theatre have begun a run of Kenneth Emson’s Plastic at the Old Red Lion Theatre, prior to a brief stint at the Mercury Theatre in Essex; it was first performed as a work-in-progress at the 2015 Latitude Festival. Directed by Josh Roche, it explores the transition from childhood to adulthood – and the marks it leaves behind.

The play is set in and around a school in Essex, linking its four characters together. Kev used to be the captain of the school football team, but those glory days have long passed – though since he met Lisa his life has started to seem a lot better. She’s still at school though, so there is a bit of an age gap between them.

Lisa has known Ben and Jack her entire life, growing up on the same road as them, but they’ve slightly lost touch as she’s more in with the popular crowd at school. Ben and Jack, by contrast, are regularly bullied; Ben for being a bit odd (and people thinking he’s gay), Jack is picked on by association. Plastic hinges around what looks set to be “a Reebok Classic of a day”, but ends up having a fateful impact on the rest of their lives.

What is so good about this play is how it lulls you into a false sense of security. The informality of how the characters address the audience, speaking in verse (sometimes rhyming, sometimes not), hooks you in from the second the lights are up. The humour that comes through is very natural (including a spot-on impression of Alan Hansen) and leaves you completely unprepared for the drama that’s on its way, linking the four indelibly. Emson’s writing is sharp and packed with startling insight.

Football is an integral part of the community, so the set design (Sophie Thomas) reflects this with a simple but stylish nod to the field markings and goal posts. Spotlights are moved manually by the cast, changing colour to fit the mood, and creating something that’s as stunning to look at as it is to listen to. Peter Small’s lighting design really does help bring the whole play to ethereal life (captured brilliantly in Mathew Foster’s production shots, incidentally).

Plastic
Photo credit: Mathew Foster

All four actors are incredibly compelling, whether it’s Mark Weinman’s Kev reminiscing about a cup final he was playing in, Thomas Coombes highlighting Ben’s vulnerability, or Louis Greatorex & Madison Clare flashing backwards & forwards, respectively, as they think of what has been & what could be.

The chemistry between Greatorex and Clare hints at their characters’ shared history, and at Jack’s current frustrations. You can almost see Ben’s anguish and self-torture bubbling up in Coombes’ eyes, as he simply tries to negotiate everyday life without boiling over. Kev is more of an outsider in this story, and has become a shadow of his former self, though Weinman easily portrays his character’s increasing confidence and how much Lisa means to him.

Plastic
Photo credit: Mathew Foster

My verdict? A quirky & innovative approach to storytelling, drawing you in and not letting you go until you’ve been twisted & turned in all directions – a Reebok Classic of a play.

Rating: 4*

Plastic runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 21 April 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.

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Tags:Josh Roche, Kenneth Emson, Latitude Festival, London, Louis Greatorex, Madison Clare, Mark Weinman, Mathew Foster, Mercury Theatre, Off West End, Old Red Lion Theatre, Peter Small, Plastic, Poleroid Theatre, review, Sophie Thomas, theatre, Thomas CoombesCategories:all posts, review, theatre

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Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.
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Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.