24:7 Theatre Festival, New Century House, Manchester
Pawn (everyone who mentions this play is careful to spell it to avoid misunderstandings) by retired police sergeant Brian Marchbank gets its title from the pawn shop in which it is set.
Emma has been left in charge of her dad's pawn shop while he goes for a haircut but she hasn't yet learned the business and he has only left her with a £30 limit. Ex-soldier Sam is an alcoholic desperate to get some cash for when the pubs open. Mel is heavily pregnant and is pawning an expensive ring given to her by her ex-fiancé. Enter Simon and Bernie with guns and ski masks, but Emma doesn't have the key to the safe and Simon sets off the alarm so that the security shutters come down and trap them all inside. To make it worse, Emma recognises Bernie, who has an unspecified number of brothers known to the police as hard men and criminals, and Simon also has a remarkably-coincidental history with one of the other characters.
This is a play that has some good moments but there is plenty that doesn't work about it. Firstly, neither the writer nor the director seem to be able to decide whether this is a comedy or a tense drama and so it doesn't entirely work as either. Wildly improbably coincidences that are expected in farce intrude into the serious storylines, and, while most characters are played fairly naturalistically (albeit with some comic lines), Emma is played by Annamarie Bayley as a cartoon comic character reminiscent of Su Pollard in Hi De Hi, although as such she does it well. The final standoff between two people with guns is played superbly, but it is a long time coming and its impact is weakened by a lot of gun waving before that where it never looks like anyone would pull the trigger and a bit too much explanation afterwards.
While the ex-soldier who returns from the battlefield blaming himself for colleagues' deaths and then turns to the bottle isn't exactly original, Sam's is by far the most interesting storyline, aided considerably by a truly compelling performance from Matthew Stead, although his final act in the play is at once predictable and not really justified by what has gone before. Fiona Carmouch also gives a strong performance even though her story is less interesting and depends too much on coincidence. Christine Clare creates Bernie convincingly as the hard, focussed, bully, but her character is on top note for almost the whole time with little light and shade. Hugh Draycott convinces as the boy from a posh school in Macclesfield but never seems like he has joined up with Bernie and her hard brothers for kicks, always looking as though he has been dragged along reluctantly.
There are really good moments of comedy and tension in the play and some excellent performances, but the whole thing feels too long with some overwritten dialogue that over-explains everything and a structure that isn't always able to get the most out of the tenser moments.
Until 31st July
Reviewer: David Chadderton