Middle-class Liverpudlians Daniel (Paul Regan) and Lisa (Catherine Harvey) are preparing dinner, nervous about how the guest upstairs is going to fit in. He turns out to be a newly-orphaned seventeen-year-old called Scott (Ryan Blackburn). He has just moved in with them, quite why is not clear, though there is a back-story that gets revealed later.
There is a spare room but Lisa keeps that to do her aerobics in (she has a weight problem), so their own lad Leo (Greg Fossard), a year or so younger, has to share his bedroom with the newcomer.
It is not the easiest integration. Lisa and Daniel are just that little bit posher than Scott’s dead mum was and, though he seems more studious than Leo, his head buried in a book rather than watching DVDs, Scott doesn’t fancy staying on at school, especially the one to which Leo goes.
Scott is a bit of a loner; his best mate is a coral snake living in a little plastic tank. That freaks Lisa out when she first sees it but, despite Leo’s resentment at Scott’s intrusion, the boys don’t get on too badly.
In many ways, this is quite a subtle picture of the problems in reconciling difference of culture and outlook at close quarters, though dramatist Dameon Garnett does not spell them out. His naturalistic dialogue and the personalities of these characters don’t allow for much open discussion about it, but the script leaves space for the cast to play what they find without having to spell it out.
The result is four strongly felt performances that all attract sympathy while at the same time providing amusement at their characters’ sometimes stereotypical reactions.
This is one of those plays like an iceberg: two thirds of the story stays underwater. Although that keeps interest alive in what there is to find out, it disappointingly doesn’t tell enough.
Director Emma Faulkner adds emphasis to the constraint of their proximity to each other by putting her production in-the-round, taking it even further by having characters remaining on set while another scene is being played around them in a new location or positioning themselves on the perimeter of the room between the audience, putting a premium on privacy.
Ryan Blackburn is particularly effective at suggesting the disorientation of Scott’s grieving process. Greg Fossard captures a mixture of callow heartless and bonding that seems typically teenage, while, as his parents, Catherine Harvey and Paul Regan are a familiar picture of well-meaning liberalism that can suddenly spark into temper.
In an attempt to provide a multi-location setting in a space being used for the play which runs on other nights of the week, designer Bethany Wells has come up with a four-piece jigsaw of kitchen units which are rearranged to a succession of noises which I could never properly identify.
A noisy washing machine, a road drill, rolling thunder which, along with the frantic rearrangement of props and setting, were intended perhaps to suggest these people’s interior turmoil but emphasised rather the problems they created for the actors still trying to stay in character.
17 is played on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinées only.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton