Everything feels more intense when you’re a teenager. Maybe it’s all the self-discovery, the newfound sense of freedom and potential. Maybe it’s all the bubbling hormones and binge drinking.
Before going on to write the extraordinary Iphigenia in Splott, playwright Gary Owen penned this heart-warming, heart-breaking story of love, hope, grief and karaoke. Set in his home town of Bridgend, it’s saturated in local flavour – chip shop vinegar and strawberry vodka shots, mostly – a warm and surprisingly uplifting anthem to youth, doomed, drunk, directionless or otherwise.
You might find it more resonant the more clearly you can recall those reckless, intoxicating nights, but there’s no doubting the genuine feeling underpinning the writing, or the earthy poetry glittering amongst the foul-mouthed chat.
There is plenty to like about director Kim Pearce’s production, which fleshes-out and focuses in on the interplay between the characters. This is especially important in the intentionally-jarring second half, which takes place – in proper Greek Tragedy style – after an awful off stage death.
Getting the tone of this second act right is a real challenge, and it is fair to say the pace slackens here. A slew of new characters are introduced. The narrative switches to direct address and starts jumping around in the chronology as their lives ricochet off along different trajectories. Though the cast give individually strong performances, they don’t quite pull off the snappy delivery the intricately intersecting dialogue demands.
Evelyn Campbell stands out as Catrin, nailing that adolescent mix of confidence and insecurity even if – in the midst of her bolshy banter – she sometimes seems to be channelling Catherine Tate.
Later, though, she’s a changed person. With hair tugged back and makeup scraped off, she looks bleached, drained, exhausted when we encounter her again, putting herself through a hopeless rebound relationship as a form of self-flagellation. Meanwhile Rhys Warrington’s Scott is bright eyed, affable and a little socially awkward, an eternal optimist in the face of rejection, loss, and his imaginary STIs.
Emma Bailey’s set is as elegant as a space strewn with foil shimmer-curtains and twinkling LED flowers possibly could be. Haze billows up thickly, simultaneously suggesting a graveyard at Halloween (where much of the action takes place) and a tacky club on a Saturday night. A striking, illuminated moon hangs overhead like the world’s best glitter ball. There is also an actual glitter ball. But for all that, the space never feels crowded.
When the audience returns for the second half, all this disco-dressing has been pulled down, heaped up in the corners, the moon literally taken out of the sky by shattering events. Now, the house lights are up, creating an uncomfortable intimacy. Among the morning-after debris, the characters pour out their grief, guilt and confusion, holding eye-contact to heighten the confessional feel.
They blame themselves, they grasp at straws, and eventually of course, they move on. Time doesn’t heal, we’re told, it just brings you new things. Waiting for a message from beyond the grave in the form of a flickering lightbulb, Scott tells us that any coincidence would do, even if someone listening in just cut the power. He glances meaningfully at the tech desk, but the lights stay on.
Honest and unflinching, this is a powerful script given a solid, thoughtful treatment by newcomers Chippy Lane. At times the show loses focus, but when it hits its stride it feels vivid and truthful – its key moments bleary, leary and blurred, but occasionally outlined in neon.
Just like one of those truly memorable nights out.
Love Steals Us From Loneliness is on until 31st July 2016. Click here for more information.