Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 21 April 2018
Guest reviewer: Joanna Trainor
“Think Columbine, think Virginia Tech, think Sandy Hook.” Teenage Ben repeats this again and again in order to calm his nerves when he’s being mercilessly mocked by the football team. Less than two months after the Parkland shootings these words don’t sit right. In Ben’s mouth they sound blasé, and they’re not.
Plastic feels like a huge misstep for the Old Red Lion which is usually so spot-on with its programming. But Kenneth Emson’s play about the assault of a young woman isn’t pushing for change and says nothing new or important about the cycle of abuse that is so prominent in society.
Men are at the centre of the story – how original. Are we supposed to feel sorry for the boyfriend who didn’t get to sleep with his much younger girlfriend, who he continually refers to as “thing”? Honestly, it sounds like he’d have ended up going to jail for statutory rape if they had slept together.
Throughout the piece, women are spoken about so poorly by supposedly sympathetic characters. Ben and his friend Jack joke about how they’re going to “smash up their wives” when they’re older. A comment about the situation they are living in, but in the context of what happens, it sounds vitriolic. This line was distressingly met with a gaggle of laughs in the audience. And this kind of behaviour escalates until the final attack.
Last summer I went to a comedy gig where the comedian joked that terrorists are pushed by romantic rejection to commit their atrocious acts. Half the room walked out. And this seems to be the reasoning behind this assault, but it’s not addressed or acknowledged. The attacker gets the last word. He’s sorry. He’s getting a new name. A new start. He doesn’t even apologise to the victim, he writes a letter to his mate about their friendship. Why does that happen?
It’s such a shame, because Madison Clare gives a stunning performance as Lisa. There is this one moment where she is telling the story of Lisa’s life to come, and the stillness as her eyes well up is beautiful. Up to this point she has been electric, owning the whole stage as the popular girl, and then this quiet reflection happens. Clare gives us a complex, well rounded character, and the only watchable moments of the production.
Plastic needs some kind of trigger warning, particularly as there isn’t really anything in the copy that clues you in to the brutality to come. There doesn’t need to be a spoiler, but something akin to a film rating so you are pre-warned there there will be graphic violence on stage. Audience care matters.
When putting on a piece about violence against women, theatres must find one that is written by a woman. It’ll say something much more powerful, rather than simply telling people that it does happen, and that it really affects men too.