Trolley Boy

David Raynor
Alphabetti Theatre
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

Bob Nicholson (Cheryl Marie Dixon in the foregound)
Cheryl Marie Dixon and Bob Nicholson
Cheryl Marie Dixon (foreground) and Bob Nicholson

It’s Washington in the 1990s and life for 14-year-old Colin is rotten. His precious, up-market, expensive BMX bike (which his parents are still paying for) has been nicked; there’s a sudden, devastating death in the family; he’s being bullied…

What can he do? How can he come to terms with all this grief?

Become a super-hero, of course. How else? OK, he doesn’t have any super powers, but neither did Batman, did he? And Colin’s just found an abandoned Asda shopping trolley, so he’s going to be Trolley Boy, bringing hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless and safety to the… not very safe.

Poor lad!

Sounds grim? Sounds like a recipe for a play about teenage angst?

Well, yes—and no. By any stretch of the imagination Colin’s life is pretty awful but there is humour here, humour from the words, from the performances, from Colin’s naïveté. And it’s humour which provokes affection; we warm to this young lad desperately trying to come to terms with grief and loss, who doesn’t give in to self-pity but wants to take action, no matter how child-like that action may seem to adult eyes.

Bob Nicholson, all shoulder-length hair and spectacles (did we really wear glasses like that in the ‘90s? Alas, we did!) is Colin. He captures the teenager’s emotional state and physicality exactly in a beautiful performance.

Cheryl Marie Dixon is his mam—and his nan, and a doddery old man, and a police officer, and a trio of teenage bullies, and a gaggle of loud twenty-something lasses, and probably quite a few that have slipped my mind! They (except mam) are drawn in broad strokes with exaggerated physicality—inevitably, for they occupy the stage for a very short time—but they work and have their effect on the audience, whether it’s the oldie’s dodderiness at the supermarket check-out which gets Colin so frustrated or the casual viciousness of the chief bully (one of the many painful moments in the play). Another excellent performance.

At 50 minutes, it’s fast-moving. Director Ali Pritchard keeps up the pace with excellent support from movement director Malcolm Shields, whilst a beautifully scored and impeccably timed soundtrack (composer Roma Yagnik and sound designer Matthew Tuckey) adds so much, almost subliminally, to the piece. Design (James Pickering) and lighting (Martin Fraser) are simple but effective.

There has been some considerable interest in this in-house production of David Raynor’s first long play which has been developed over a period of three years from its first appearance as one of Live Theatre’s Ten Minutes to… plays and grew further though Alphabetti’s Write Longer literary scheme, and it certainly lives up to expectations. It’s moving, it’s funny and—I never thought I would use this phrase because I dislike it as it is over-used and often meaningless—it really is life-affirming.

Next week, on Thursday 19 and Friday 20, Trolley Boy will play at Arts Centre Washington.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan