Andrew Sheridan is undoubtedly a talented playwright but he seems to come from a school of writing where the primary aim is to shock (the likes of Sarah Kane are referenced in the play's marketing material) rather than anything else.
Winterlong, which is playing at the Soho Theatre until March 12, is about a boy, Oscar, rejected by his parents, who suffer from a personality disorder, and is brought up by his grandparents. His grandfather, John, is a resentful of and distant towards his charge. Oscar is kind hearted but socially awkward and a bit of a loner.
The story starts just before his birth through to his teenage years. Oscar is looking for connection, for his place in the world but those around him seem unable to give it.
It is, on one level, a tragic tale of a childhood bruised by poverty and neglect in an environment of mental illness and little love. But on another level there is what I can only describe as 'extraneous oddity'.
John and Malcolm share biscuits and a flask of coffee but then Malcolm propositions John and gets aggressive when he rebuff’s his offer. Nothing more than a slap and scuffle and that is it.
Then there is the scene where Oscar is bird-watching and encounters a man who obviously has sinister motives for befriending him. Our protagonist manages to see him off by having an almost clairvoyant-like knowledge of the man’s background and family situation.
Sometimes these scenes seem forced and, well, excess dramatic baggage serving little purpose other than to add potential shock-horror moments. Which they don't.
In fact the only scene I found slightly disturbing is when Oscar’s mother, Helen, violently robs his grandmother Jean of her benefit money she was going to use to buy Oscar something he badly needs. In fact it all seems a little over hyped with signs warning of nudity and scenes with sexual content - someone at the Soho Theatre needs to stop worrying and go and see Frankenstein at the National for nudity - ironic really.
But all this is tempered by some wonderful, emotionally charged scenes, such as when Oscar finally gets a visit from his mum.
“You could have come back just once….Polished my shoes, Made me a birthday cake, Looked after me when I was poorly. Slept on my bed. Holding me in your arms. I might have missed you more then.”
And a particularly devastating exchange towards the end of the play in which Grandfather confesses to Oscar how how he really feels about him.
Winterlong is a messy play both in content and its staging, indeed never have I seen so much food dropped, squashed or spat out onto the floor. But again it all feels extraneous and for effect rather than a genuine device to move things forward or make a point.
There are some good performances particularly from Harry McIntire as Oscar who seems to visibly grow with his character’s aging but ultimately it feels like an hour and bit long play that’s been padded out to make it two hours.
I’m giving it three stars out of five. No reviews have been posted on www.upthewestend.com yet but I will update when they start coming in.
There aren't any cast biog's in the programme/play text so may have to come back to this when I've played around on google.