mon 01/03/2021

Shook, Papatango online review - strongly acted, but depressingly predictable | reviews, news & interviews

Shook, Papatango online review - strongly acted, but depressingly predictable

Shook, Papatango online review - strongly acted, but depressingly predictable

Film version of award-winning show about young offenders has more power than plot

Bringing up baby: Josef Davies and Ivan Oyik in ‘Shook’.The Other Richard

Film is the new theatre – this we know, but does the distance imposed by the change of medium increase or decrease the impact of the story?

Film is the new theatre – this we know, but does the distance imposed by the change of medium increase or decrease the impact of the story? The latest example of this problematic switch from stage to screen is the strongly acted Shook, Samuel Bailey’s debut play, which won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize and had a run at the Southwark Playhouse in November of that year. Although its planned transfer to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End was curtailed when the pandemic hit, the drama has been superbly filmed and is available to watch online on the Papatango website.

Set in a rundown classroom in a young offenders institution, the story concerns three inmates – Riyad, Cain and Jonjo – who are meant to be are learning new skills to help them cope in the outside world when, or if, they are released. Since all three are already fathers, this is a parenting class, complete with teacher Grace, and plastic dolls which can be used to practice nappy changing, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation for infants (top tip: don’t slam down too hard on the baby’s chest). This tiny space, with its whiteboard, chairs and cupboards, looks grim, but is a welcome relief to anyone who is banged up for 23 hours a day.

The three young men are vividly characterised: Cain is a Liverpudlian motherless motormouth, full of agitation and aggression; Riyad is an ex-gang member, calmer, stronger and trying hard to better himself through education; and the slightly posher Jonjo is a highly introverted dog-lover who once lost his temper, with life-changing consequences. For these boys who are on their way to becoming men the issue of their maleness is something that they have to assert 24/7, in various ways. Usually involving verbal viciousness and threats of physical violence. Only occasionally is the softer side of their identity allowed to peek through.The psychology of incarceration means that all three are powerless, but in an effectively controlled environment. They react to everyday life with a mixture of schoolboy clowning and grown-up pain. They experience feelings of loss, despair and desperation. Each of them is thrillingly individual and also more complex than at first appears. Their unpredictability means that some moments – like Cain’s rapid demonstration of nappy changing techniques – are a joy, although we also know that their hopes will ultimately be crushed. When times get hard, they get shook –  and revert back to type.

Bailey’s writing has a powerfully realised hyper-naturalism. This is attractive because of its high definition realism, with character detail leaking out like occasional tears and sketchy back story emerging out of the shadows of embarrassed silences. Each man is psychologically convincing, from Cain, who prefers the conditions inside prison to the stresses of his life outside, to Riyad, who is pretty uncertain that his ambition to be a businessman can be helped through learning to do GCSE maths. In terms of banter, there are some good jokes and popular culture references that liven up the 90 minute play.

But although Bailey has created a strongly felt situation, the absence of a compelling plot, or indeed of any real sense of drama, makes the predictably downbeat ending rather depressing. Whatever insights the play has to offer, with its scenes of sweet-swapping playground rivalry, get lost in a pervading feeling of aching sadness, and I mean really aching. Still, there is much to appreciate in director George Turvey’s tightly controlled production, with excellent performances from Josh Finan (Cain, pictured above), Ivan Oyik (Riyad) and Josef Davies (Jonjo), plus great support by Andrea Hall as their rather underwritten teacher. Jasmine Swan’s design is impeccable and Max Brill’s filming brilliantly captures the men’s glowering rage and moments of acute vulnerability. But because we are not in the same small room as the characters, the film gives us the distance to see the defects in the drama more clearly than if we were more directly experiencing their situation. 

@AleksSierz

The absence of a compelling plot makes the predictably downbeat ending rather depressing

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

I couldn't disagree more with the suggestion that this piece is predictable. Until the final moments I was on the edge of my seat waiting for one of them to take his life or for Jonjo to be attacked or some other dramatic moment, and was relieved Samuel Bailey didn't sell out to anything that crass. I'm sorry, but if you think there was no drama in this play, you simply weren't paying attention. At the end my friend and I spent an hour discussing the alienation of young men in many communities, left-behind people who are coming out of this pandemic with even more reason to be angry. We will talk about this for weeks. And why on earth would you refer to Andrea Hall as a 'supporting' actor? Could that possibly because she's the only non-male in this play? She's no 'support' to the others. She's there as an equal partner in the performing of this extremely satisfying play - dramatically, narratively and emotionally. Understated yes, but certainly not underwritten. And you found it 'depressing'? Shocking, yes, but it's hardly telling us anything we don't know: it's immersing us in it. We can then choose to be self-absorbedly 'depressed' by the reality of other people's lives or to fight for systemic change. I choose the latter, and this play left me very determined.

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