Goth Weekend

Ali Taylor
Stephen Joseph Theatre and Live Theatre
Live Theatre, Newcastle

Sean McKenzie (Ken) and Jessica Johnson (Belinda) Credit: Tony Bartholemew
Amy Trigg (Anna) and Sean McKenzie (Ken) Credit: Tony Bartholemew
Gurjeet Singh (Simon/Bram) and Jessica Johnson (Belinda) Credit: Tony Bartholemew
Gurjeet Singh (Simon/Bram) and Amy Trigg (Anna) Credit: Tony Bartholemew
Gurjeet Singh (Simon/Bram) and Sean McKenzie (Ken) Credit: Tony Bartholemew

Goth Weekend is very funny. Sometimes it’s laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes quietly witty; sometimes we roar and sometimes we chuckle internally. A nice, enjoyable way of spending an evening at the theatre.

But hang on! This is a play by Ali Taylor, he who wrote Cathy for Cardboard Citizens, a searing indictment of the dehumanising state of social housing and the private rented sector in this country but which managed to find some humanity in the worst of its characters. Surely he hasn’t sold out?

Of course not. It’s not superficial comedy, it’s a play about identity, about our perception of ourselves and other people, about fitting—or not—into whatever pigeonhole we choose for ourselves. And, indeed, about pigeonholing others. It’s very personal but still political (with a small ‘p’). Ultimately it’s about being who you are, no matter what others think. And comedy is just one of its tools in this exploration.

Ken and Anna are a father and daughter living in Scarborough. He’s a plumber and she’s still at school, a 15-year-old. Ken’s wife—Anna’s mother—is dead. They both miss her but Anna thinks Ken needs to meet someone, so she arranges dates for him via Tinder—with women who are like her mother.

Belinda and Bram (real name Simon) are a Goth mother and son from Gateshead. She’s a singer and guitarist, he’s a keyboard player and they are playing badly attended gigs in tiny back rooms of pubs. When Belinda and her husband, the leading figures of a Goth band, split up, she got the house and he got the band.

One night, as Ken waits in the pub for his latest Tinder date not to show, he and Belinda meet and thus begins a series of events which makes each of them and their nearest and dearest question themselves.

On a simple but flexible set (by Helen Coyston) which becomes, inter alia, a pub, a living room and a snow-covered roadside between Scarborough and Whitby but which nonetheless clearly suggests Whitby, director Paul Robinson (Artistic Director of the SJT) guides his cast of Amy Trigg (Anna), Sean McKenzie (Ken), Jessica Johnson (Belinda) and Gurjeet Singh (Bram/Simon) along a path which leads to each of them gaining a better understanding of themselves and others—and if that sounds pretentious, I can assure you the reality is that it is far from it.

Goth Weekend features comedy, even silliness (middle-aged Ken as a Steam Punk influenced Goth with grey make-up and his trousers round his ankles—don’t ask!), music and not a little upset and hurt along the way. And I am forced to wonder if anyone ever has used a Haribo like that?

There are times when the play teeters on the edge of sentimentality, even bathos, but it never crosses that line, thanks to the combination of the writing, Robinson’s direction and fine playing from the cast.

It’s a real ensemble piece and all four actors are totally convincing, from the flamboyance of Johnson’s Belinda to Trigg’s buttoned-up prim Anna. And they are supported by an at times almost subliminal but hugely effective soundscape from Paul Stear.

A though-provoking and moving piece of theatre which is also great fun!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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