“What’s your life plan?”
Unless you’re a friend of Nigel Farage, it’s hard not to feel that we’re all screwed at the moment. But Kathryn O’Reilly’s play for Theatre503 has a slightly different perspective, looking at a particular part of Broken Britain with a bleak sense of despair. Screwed opens with 30-somethings Luce and Charlene battling through an epic hangover while they try to get away with doing as little as possible in their dead-end factory job, screwing fixings onto pieces of metal hosing.
It’s no one-off though – the entirety of their existence is taken up getting from one drunken night out to the next, trying to score as much cocktails and cock as they can, snorting poppers and necking miniatures along the way. Rocking up late to work and relying on caffeine pills to get through the day, they’re barely holding it together but their self-destructive behaviour seems to know no bounds – it’s only the intervention of others in their lives that disrupts the flow of vodka.
Eloise Joseph’s Luce and Samantha Robinson’s Charlene are a fearsomely cracking double act and O’Reilly has a brilliant ear for the visceral venality of their chat in all its swaggering hollowness. For though they shout the loudest, drink the most and shag themselves silly, there’s nothing more to their lives, nor do they know how to look for it even if they wanted. A crucial moment comes midway when putative love interest Paulo, an appealing Stephen Myott-Meadows, asks Charlene what her life plan is, her lack of comprehension, never mind aspiration, one of the play’s most tragic aspects.
Tragedy of a more physical nature also occurs late on, leading the play to a strangely hurried conclusion, and one is which is pretty much unremittingly bleak, almost too much so for us to really engage. There’s a strange decision to make Luce’s father a trans gay man, Derek Elroy’s Doris is well-delineated but there’s a slight element of discomfort in the notion that this may have shaped Luce’s (lack of) development. And the under-explored nature of Charlene’s condition felt like a missed opportunity to flesh out the character – though there patently is such viciousness in the world, such relentless brutality onstage can begin to feel punishing.
Sarah Meadows’ production does well to mitigate this though, in the abstract sweep of Catherine Morgan’s design. Emphasising the structural shifts in O’Reilly’s writing produces some gorgeous passages of overlapping dialogue that press pause on the overbearing naturalism and Jamie Platt’s lighting choices similarly move around a more liminal space than the plotting might lead us to believe. A bolshy, brutal bit of theatre.