Review: Plastic, Old Red Lion

A brutal and bleak look at teenage dreams and experiences – Kenneth Emson’s Plastic is playing at the Old Red Lion before a short run at the Mercury in Colchester

“Think Columbine, think Sandy Hook, think Virginia Tech…”

Deeply poetic, densely constructed and deftly performed, Kenneth Emson’s Plastic finds itself in the unfortunate position of being considered timely. In its depiction of the way violence insinuates itself into society through schoolhood trauma, and disproportionately affects teenagers, it has a horrible currency reflected in the rising crime rates that Amber Rudd apparently knows so little about.

Set in Emson’s native Essex, at a secondary school where old friendships have been recalibrated along new tribal lines, Plastic examines not just the faultlines that emerge from being bullied, but the hopelessness that accompanies the thought that being the popular kid might just be as good as life will ever get. Brutal and bleak, it is uncompromising about how desperate life can get for those feel left behind.

Constructed as a memory play, in verse, and endlessly flitting from past to present and between its four characters, Emson sure makes us work to find clarity. But director Josh Roche makes sure that we soon get attuned to its rhythms, its repetitions, picking up clues as to what’s going on, even if they soon turn out to be red herrings, no prisoners being taken here when it comes to predictability. 

Sophie Thomas’ hauntingly atmospheric design fills the Old Red Lion’s intimate space with an oppressive tension, and brilliantly foregrounds Peter Small’s lighting work which does much to guide us about the internal lives on display here. And Mark Weinman, Louis Greatorex, Thomas Coomes and debutant Madison Clare are all striking in the way they embody the intense feeling of wishing you could just change the world forever.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Mathew Foster
Plastic is booking at the Old Red Lion until 21 April, then plays the Colchester Mercury from 26 to 28 April

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