Raw

Chris O'Connell

Troublehouse Theatre Company

Joshua Brooks, Manchester

From 02 June 2015 to 06 June 2015

Review by Andrew Edwards

Raw is one of Chris O’Connell’s street trilogy: Car, Raw, Kid. The sequence made a huge impression when it was first staged in Edinburgh some 15 years ago.

It is a forensic though grim exploration of gang culture and violence. As such it is an intriguing choice of one-act play for Troublehouse to offer in the intimate studio space of the basement at Joshua Brooks pub in Manchester.

Lex rules the teen gang at the heart of this play. At the start she leads Trainers and Lorna, her two girl members, as they assault a young man on a train. This act stirs up tensions in the gang which leads to its disintegration.

As it fractures and fearing her power diminishing, Lex attacks Trainers who is her staunchest ally. From this point, where Lex is clearly out of control, the gang is holed below the water line and gradually dissolves.

Trainers has a strong emotional bond with Lex which persists even after she has been brutally attacked by her and Lorna wants to get close to Addy, the gang’s only male. What is never clear is why Lex is so ungovernable and needs to perpetrate such regular acts of bloody violence.

Reuben is a man who challenges Lex at some personal risk. He may or may not have a social work background but he sees something in Lex worth saving. While that is the central struggle in the play, given how damaged and deadly Lex is, it’s stretching credulity that his single-handed attempt to redeem her could ever work.

Notwithstanding Chris O’ Connell’s background as a former probation officer it is a critical flaw in the writing and not the fault of this production.

As Lex, Heather Carroll veers wonderfully well between brittle smarm and uncontrolled rage. Amey Woodhall as Trainers shows the vulnerability of another damaged teenager who is perhaps in love with her tormentor. Emily Curtis as Lorna convinces as the teen attracted to Addy while nursing dreams of leaving the gang to return home.

John Weaver as Addy efficiently reveals his character’s need to be loyal and see that as strength, but it’s uncertain what this loyalty represents. Susan Robinson is suitably angst-ridden as Lex’s older sister Shelly. Susan is credible in a difficult role as she must persuade that she cares for Lex while also convincing us that she can trust Reuben to have Lex’s best interests at heart.

As Reuben, the only outside force we see to challenge Lex, Jamie Scott has a compelling power and authority. Unfortunately, and despite his performance, this reviewer was not able to believe in the central idea that this man would put himself at such risk to try to redeem the very dangerous Lex.

When the inevitable happens and Lex turns on him too, it feels rather predictable.

The cast as coached by director David Crowley give it their all. The scenes of violence in particular are very well choreographed to pulsing drums and pseudo stroboscopic lighting. The convention of flower petals flowing in place of blood is very clever and brilliantly effective. A word of praise also for assistant director Rick Bithell as the gang’s first victim.

The sound levels, however, are way too high for this reviewer and this includes the music which greets the audience on arrival. It is very repetitive and just too loud for comfort. Perhaps that is the point but if so it alienated this reviewer which surely can’t be the intention.

The pacing of the short scenes means that the 70-minute run time doesn’t drag. On this impressive evidence, it will be fascinating to see what Troublehouse renders as its next production.