Live Theatre, Newcastle
Dirty Nets is writer Karen Laws' first stage play: previously she has written for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (BBC) and Five's a Crowd (BBC Radio Newcastle). Being aware of this before seeing the play did, I admit, give me some cause for concern: all too often TV writers produce TV work for the stage and what works on TV can seem very bitty in a theatre. It's pleasing to report that my fears were unfounded.
Brothers Sam (played by Rob Atkinson in his first major part) and Mazza (Joe Caffrey) have to find money quickly to pay off a loan shark from whom Sam has borrowed a lot of money to pay for the catering at his upcoming wedding. They break into the filthy flat of Barney (Colin MacLachlan) because, according to Mazza, old people always have money hidden away.
Much of the first part of the play is taken up with arguments between the two brothers. Sam, the younger, is clearly unfitted for a life of crime, obsessed with the possibility of catching something nasty from the "microbes" which he believes (with justice!) infest the flat, whilst Mazza, who has recently come out of prison, is torn between the need to protect his brother and exasperation at his "unprofessionalism".
The resultant comedy (for this is, as the publicity says, a "dark comedy"), whilst not a laugh a minute, is sufficient to keep the audience amused, although some of the lines can best be described as cheap. Jokes about downmarket supermarket Netto are now a staple of pantomime and when one was introduced in the middle of what was quite a funny gag, it immediately turned me off and killed the laughter at the far better joke stone dead. The best comedy in this part of the play comes from the characterisation and these one-liners were completely unnecessary. However the play is not overburdened with them, so while a certain amount of pruning might be a good idea (at times, too, I found it a little repetitive), it certainly doesn't have to be root and branch.
Then the play darkens, the comedy begins to slip away and the play ends in tragedy. The important thing is that the seeds of this tragedy were there from the beginning, for they lie in the characters of the two brothers, so that, whilst the tragic act is shocking in its violence and its effect, it is not totally unexpected, certainly in retrospect.
Whilst I am a tad ambivalent about the play itself (I feel Laws is trying a little too hard in the comedy), I have no reservations about the performances. All three, newcomer Atkinson and the very experienced Caffrey and MacLachlan, acquit themselves well and bring out all the nuances which prevent the play from being what it could so easily have become, a play of two halves.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan