Pleasance Theatre, London – until 6 November 2016
Guest reviewer: Sarah Tinsley
If there’s anything that’s going to kill a teenager’s sense of adventure and sexual awakening, it’s being stuck in Sheringham, Norfolk. Poor Jimmy is sixteen, he doesn’t have a ticket for the Morrissey gig in the O2, and no-one understands him. Oh, and London might as well be a world away. The stage is set for Jimmy’s first taste of adventure, on a bleak stage in the rather lovely Pleasance Theatre.
What Rubber Ring offers is, more than anything, a thoroughly humorous look at rural England and the particular challenges facing LGBT teens that live far away from the big city. James McDermott is both the writer and performer of this one-man-show. Seamlessly melding from everyone to his Mum, a local care worker (Brian was definitely my favourite) to the people he meets on the journey, McDermott gives a diverse and touching performance.
We follow Jimmy from home, to school, to the train, to his big adventure. Everywhere we go, we meet the idiosyncrasies of British life. What he captures brilliantly in his writing is a wealth of cultural references and quips that centre the play firmly in Britain, with many nods to the sarcasm and wit on this isle. It’s one of the things that makes it seem almost nostalgic, in the way it captures the cadence and rhythm of local accent and speech. There are few plays I have seen that had audiences laughing so long, and so regularly. Clever humour and sparky language are the key things you take away from this performance.
Having said that, there were a few instances, particularly at the outset, where I felt the timing wasn’t quite there. Perhaps nerves, or becoming used to a new audience, but the first few jokes didn’t quite land right, and it felt a little rushed. I hope, as the run continues, James gives the audience the space they want to take in his brilliant language and allows them to savour his humour. Once we were into the story, the rhythms felt far more natural, and we were given much more time to revel in our own amusement.
What’s also refreshing about this play is the way it tackles thorny issues. While, of course, there are dark times for poor Jimmy, the overall effect of the people he encounters and the shape of his journey gives it an ironic tone. It’s more of a shrug to the things that life throws at you than a melodramatic lament. Which, of course, is how they would do it in Norfolk. It means that you’re touched and moved by the issues raised, but ultimately tickled at the absurdities of life.
It’s a story not often told, that of the gay teenager in a rural setting, and it raises some important issues and ideas about how those experiences are shaped and influenced by the people and the landscapes about us. All too often we confine certain narratives to certain places, so it was refreshing to see a light thrown on a shadowy scene that is often left unrepresented. Unfortunately, I am not a seasoned Morrissey fan, so there is a whole other layer to this play which I’m sure I missed out on, but it was another element to add to this delightful show.
Riotously funny and thoughtful, a bittersweet journey of a young-boy into an unknown world.