Blackpool, What A Shit Place To Die

Phil Pearson
Absolute Scenes
Three Minute Theatre, Manchester

The reputation of Blackpool, once famous for fresh air and fun, has taken a knock in recent years. Nowadays the resort is perceived as a bit of a sad joke—a tawdry area where groups desperate for some release from the boredom of their daily lives congregate to get drunk as quickly as possible.

In Phil Pearson’s play Blackpool, What A Shit Place To Die, the resort’s jaded reputation actually acts as an attraction for Billy Costello who has formed a very low opinion of himself and feels that he fits into such a squalid environment. Life has not fulfilled Billy’s expectations; autistic and happy to be the centre of attention, Billy became an actor but his career has stalled. Worse, he has been ostracised by his family after being ‘outted’ as gay.

In a further insult to Billy’s dignity, his sexuality was revealed in Aldi, a store, like Blackpool, that is considered low class. Inevitably, therefore, Billy is drawn to an area that seems an appropriate place for him to end his life.

Pearson’s perceptive script subtly implies that Billy’s problems have more to do with his personality than his sexuality. Billy’s attitude is that is of a sulky child having a strop—"I’ll just die and then you’ll be sorry"—and his behaviour, with drug abuse and heavy drinking, is self-destructive. Billy’s self-defensive approach is to show distain for anything and anyone—to reject them before they can do the same to him.

The script has some wonderfully witty put-downs, a possible lover conjured from Billy’s confused imagination is described as a ‘Poundland TOWIE’, but offers a character who is so defensive and judgemental as to be unlikeable.

Sole performer Mark Newsome cannot make Billy sympathetic but does make it possible to understand how the character has become so aggressive and self-pitying. By the end of the play, we might not like Billy much more but Newsome makes it easy to appreciate his point of view. As well as drawing out Billy’s neuroses, Newsome brings to life a whole range of characters with some excellent vocal work.

Director Grace Cordell pulls the audience into Billy’s melodramatic view of the world with scenes ending literally on a bombshell exploding. The failure of Billy to mature is hinted at by filmed scenes projected on-screen showing Billy desperately reliving his childhood on the funfair.

The conclusion of Blackpool, What A Shit Place To Die, in which Billy gains perspective and becomes able to pull himself together and appreciate the support he gets from his friends, seems a bit superficial after such a psychologically convincing build-up. Yet the play remains a powerful and witty study of a troubled character with a strong performance and vivid direction.

David Cunningham