Touring – reviewed at Southwark Playhouse, London
About ten years ago, the late, much loved and admired Philip Osment wrote a play called Inside. Developed with young male offenders in Rochester prison with Jim Pope’s Playing On company, Osment took the workshops and turned the accounts of the young men, all of them fathers, into a piercingly humane commentary on parenting and fatherhood.
A decade later, this year’s winner of the coveted Papatango new writing prize, Samuel Bailey, has created a very similarly sensitive portrayal of young men ‘banged up’ and their responses to fatherhood – their own and the fathers who begat them.
Osment’s Inside portrayed seven prisoners and was shown both in the Roundhouse Studio and at the Soho Theatre. Ironically, though developed at Rochester, the company was denied a staging there which tells us something about the intransigencies of the penal system and the difficulties of making any real progress in terms of rehabilitation or change.
It would be fascinating to know more about Bailey’s original source for his material. In his acknowledgements in the published script, he refers only to ‘the lads back home, who think theatre is rubbish, but are, in some form, in every play I have written’.
Shook works on a much smaller scale than Inside featuring only four characters – three young offenders and Grace, a woman tutor giving lessons in parenting.
But my goodness, it packs some punch, driven by explosive characterisation and dialogue that no less than Inside and probably more in some respects – had I at the time been able to catch some of its juicier comments – signals a stunning debut.
Papatango was co-founded by Shook’s director, George Turvey 12 years ago to encourage and enable new playwrights. Since then, they’ve established an enviable reputation with a roll call of winners who have gone on to garner awards across the writing spectrum – stage, TV and film.
Shook, like Inside, also leaves us in no doubt as to the challenges facing individuals and those trying to help them. But it is overwhelmingly driven by the dynamics uncovered between the three main characters: the shy, retiring, stammering Jonjo, Riyad with a head for figures and yearning to break his destructive cycle, and above all, the aptly named Cain.
Josh Finan’s performance as Cain is nothing less than shattering. Thin, wiry, a bundle of destructive energy, proud of his reputation of being `unteachable’, his preening we come to see is simply a survival cover for his inability to read or write, a childhood where the father was absent and a present he feels offers him no hope in the future.
As he puts it when Riyad is trying to encourage him to take the opportunity to take part in `restorative justice’ – apologise to his victim – and get home: `What fucking home? I ain’t got one. I don’t know what that word means. This place here… is like fucking Butlins to me…I ain’t got no family, I ain’t got nowhere to live, no money…this is it.’
© The Other Richard, Andrea Hall as Grace, the parenting tutor and Ivan Oyik as Riyad – applying CPR to a baby doll, no such help for these shattered lives…
In between the inevitable revelations, Bailey produces some stingingly rebarbative exchanges, especially between Cain and Riyad, that on the one hand, had some people in convulsions of laughter around me whilst others, script in hand were trying to decipher Finan’s accent which I’d venture to say was broad Scouse, but might have been West Midlands or anywhere further north than the Watford Gap!
Ivan Oyik, making his acting debut, turns in a powerful performance too as Riyad, encouraged by Andrea Hall’s beautifully understated, sympathetic Grace to think bigger than his present circumstances, even in terms of gaining some GCSE’s and getting to college.
For Josef Davies Jonjo, there is an even bleaker future. Painfully shy, and with a girl-friend about to give birth, his sensitivity has led to an explosion of such violence he is unlikely to be released for many years to come.
© The Other Richard, Josh Finan as the charismatic but destructive Cain, learning some basic parenting skills, lollipop as always to hand…
Using the parenting workshop as a useful device, Bailey gradually paints a depressingly deterministic picture of the deeper scars that lie beneath the jaunty daily banter of bargaining for sweets and lollipops to show young men already damaged beyond repair by dysfunctional parental and fathering environments.
Spectators will go away wiser and sadder from this encounter with Shook, but most of all they will go away remembering Bailey’s dialogue and Josh Finan’s barnstormer of a performance as Cain, comparable to Ewan McGregor’s Renton or Ewen Bremner’s Spud in Trainspotting. It’s that iconic!
A new play by Samuel Bailey
Jonjo: Josef Davies
Cain: Josh Finan
Grace: Andrea Hall
Riyad: Ivan Oyik
Director: George Turvey
Set and Designer: Jasmine Swan
Lighting Design: Johanna Town
Music and Sound Designer: Richard Hammarton
Producer: Chris Foxon
Fight Director: Tim Klotz
Assistant Director: Lisa Diveney
Presented by Papatango Theatre Company
World premiere of Shook at Southwark Playhouse, Oct 30, 2019. Then tours to Hope Street, Liverpool (Nov 26), Theatr Clwyd, Mold (Nov 27-28), Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (Nov 30), Marlowe Studio, Canterbury (Dec 4-7).