One of the most hyped new playwrights in the country, Polly Stenham had a lot of expectation weighing on her with her follow-up to That Face, but with Tusk Tusk she has delivered a play, that whilst superficially looks to tread similar ground, is most definitely its own beast. The play opens with three kids, 7, 14 and 15 nearly 16 in their living room surrounded by unopened packing cases, living in gay abandon, sleeping during the daytime, staying awake all night and surviving on Chinese takeaways and crisps. These scenes are cracking, with sparkling dialogue between the three and a real sense of fun and camaraderie is built up very quickly. However, as the days go by, the mystery and unease at the situation increases as one realises that all has not been well with the mother for whom they are waiting.
Given that the three leads are each making their stage debuts, their performances are nothing short of extraordinary. Toby Regbo as Eliot and Bel Powley as Maggie both exude a wonderful wittiness and cockiness, often belying their young ages, but also in their different ways, show the damage that their situation has done to them. Eliot as the oldest has to deal with the stresses of becoming the de facto head of the household, whilst Maggie has the weight of a terrible secret to bear, and the pair of them show these nuances with a deftness of touch which would indicate that they should have no problem secuing future work on the stage. The youngest, Finn played by Finn Bennett is also heartbreakingly good, to the point where I was genuinely worried for his welfare at the interval!
The second half is a much tenser affair as we begin to unravel the reasons for the apparent abandonment of the children, and just how badly this has affected them, even if they don’t realise it themselves. The visit of two adults, acquaintances of the mother, late on demonstrate just how precariously stacked the house of cards that the kids have constructed for themselves is and the frenetic final scene pulls everything together with some cruelly shocking revelations. Played in the upstairs theatre at the Royal Court and with the action confined to the increasingly rubbish-filled kitchen/living room area, this is one intense theatrical experience, and whilst I had a little disappointment in the very final scene, this was a fine production and further proof that Stenham is no one-hit wonder.