There is a defined and painful tragedy in how a moment of lost control can have fundamental consequences but what haunted me most was that for some of the characters their school days were as good as it was ever going to get.
A piece of classical music is playing. It’s one of those evocative pieces that has mournful, tragic undertones, the sort that is used in war films.
A mirrorball rotates sending disco sparkles of light across a couple dancing slowly.
Mark Weinman, Louis Greatorex, Thomas Coombes and Madison Clare in Plastic, Old Red Lion Theatre. Photo: Mathew Foster
The music combined with the mirror ball perfectly set the scene for what is to come in Kenneth Emson’s new play Plastic.
Set in an Essex secondary school this is part reminiscence part flit back in time to a day when life was different.
Lisa (Madison Clare) - bright, sassy, popular - has decided that ‘tonight is the night’ with Kev (Mark Weinman), the former school football team captain who now has a car and a mundane job.
She wants the day to go as quickly as possible but the gossip machine is whirring.
Best friends Jack (Louis Greatorex) and Ben (Thomas Coombes) are the outsiders, the 'weirdos' who want to get through the day unnoticed, unmolested from verbal or physical abuse.
As the day crawls by, tension is mounting. Ben might be about to snap; he is a ball of broiling anger, frustration and resentment, sensitive to every perceived slight and constantly rising to the bait.
Looking to escape the stares, the gossip, the threats, the steaming brew of hormones and hierarchy Jack, Ben and Lisa bunk off, a decision that will change all their lives.
The story unfolds piece by piece through a combination of monologues and interactions against a bare black stage, the only adornments: a cheap blue plastic carrier bag and football pitch markings.
Lightbulbs dangle from tracks so that they can be slid into position, projecting an eerie spotlight on who ever is underneath.
This is a multi-layered play that looks at the pressure of teenage life, the pressure to fit in or be popular or have sex or not have sex. The pressure to gain the right reputation and preserve it, to have status. The search for identity, the struggle not to care.
Kenneth Emson's script is witty and poetic with, in its more brutal moments, shades of Philip Ridley.
Under Josh Roche's direction, the tension builds and builds with superb performances from all four in the cast.
There is a defined and painful tragedy in how a moment of lost control can have fundamental consequences but what haunted me most was that for some of the characters, their school days were as good as it was ever going to get.
And that felt sharply tragic.
Plastic is powerful and gripping with an emotional punch the lingers long afterwards, I'm giving it 5 stars. It is 75 minutes long without an interval and is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until April 21.
Q&A with director Josh Roche about Plastic and who he'd commit crimes to work with.