Guildford Fringe Theatre Company
The Star Inn, Guildford
With a bare stage, minimal props and only the most necessary of background sound effects, Concrete Boots, like most good fringe theatre, focusses purely on storytelling without relying on gimmicks or distractions.
The result in this case is a rather austere setting, which works well for this darkly humorous tale. Guildford Fringe Theatre Company has made The Star its home and, whilst it has used the room in every type of configuration, traditional theatre seating works well for this production and nicely distances the audience from the characters who are abandoned and vulnerable.
Toby (Spencer Cummins) and Cubby (Steven Arnold) quickly reproduce the image from the publicity material and it becomes clear that the Concrete Boots of the title refers to their red buckets. The men are cemented to the spot with a tide rapidly approaching and no obvious rescue underway.
As they reflect on the fact that they are almost certainly facing death, you could be forgiven for assuming that this is rather a grim play. The truth is far from it, however, with a script that lands lightly upon serious topics before flitting to the more mundane or comic. Conversations about flesh-lights and dildos entwine with discussions about modern art, 9/11 and Roald Dahl-type escape plans.
These semi-absurd topics reinforce Toby’s observation that, “no-one can really do death” and allow Arnold to demonstrate his excellent comedic timing and emotional range. The character of Cubby, whilst extremely cocky, is also likeable and cheeky and Arnold strikes exactly the right balance between swaggering bravado and ‘little boy lost.’
This contrasts with the more restrained Toby; Cummins brings an underlying frustration to the part, clenching his fists and raising his shoulders but never entirely losing his temper.
It would be easy to let scenes with so little movement drag, but Stuart Price’s direction ensures that the pace is appropriately steady and the temptation to motor through the flashbacks is avoided. Equally the sense of the cold and tiredness is neatly underplayed, evident but not over-egged.
This is a thoughtful piece of writing and the brotherly bond is vividly created offering poignant and amusing moments. There is slight repetition in places, particularly from the character of Toby, and the first flashback to their schooldays (this is not immediately obvious) sits slightly awkwardly amongst the other snappier vignettes from their past.
There are a few moments in the longer speeches where the dialogue still feels scripted but overall the language and characters merge to form a compelling hour of theatre with an ending that, whilst not entirely surprising, satisfies.
Reviewer: Amy Yorston