As You Do Productions
The Kings Arms, Salford
Danny Clifford is an ambitious playwright. From Heaven to Hell, his first play, covered World War I and now he squeezes enough material to fuel an entire TV series into Unbreakable that runs just over an hour.
Boxer Josh (Danny Clifford) is so blissfully happy in his relationship with fiancée Kath (Eve Gordon) that his trainer worries he may lack the killer instinct needed to win the big prize-fight for which he has been entered. But Josh is unware that, for years, Kath has been using recreational drugs to cope with depression. When friend Sarah (Natalie Jones) introduces her to Spice, Kath rapidly develops a dependency and becomes forced into an unwanted relationship with pusher Dave (Dru Jones).
Although Danny Clifford has written and produced the play, he does not hog the limelight. Clifford underplays Josh, making him blend into the background, and allows Eve Gordon to take centre-stage. Gordon does not waste the opportunity; her harrowing portrayal of drug dependency is convincing not just because of the twitches and mood swings but rather the sense of shame and self-hate that comes from within. In a particularly strong scene, Gordon stands stock-still, barely able to contain her loathing as her pusher runs his hands over her body as if marking his territory. Gordon's performance is so strong as to render unnecessary the somewhat clichéd 'woozy' images projected onto a screen to the rear of the stage that represent her descent into addiction.
The play crams so much material into a limited running time, Clifford has to resort to using short scenes—a technique that rarely works in theatre. To facilitate swift transition between scenes, director Karl Koo strips the stage to the bare minimum and brings the play to a conclusion with a tremendous physical showdown. But the stop-start nature of the brief scenes prevent him from developing a consistent mood for the play—it feels like we are watching extracts rather than seeing the whole story.
The timeline is also affected by the glut of material and the short scenes. Kath develops a drug habit and Natalie Jones takes Sarah from a pink-wearing, party-loving, girly girl into a hard-faced, leather-clad pusher. These developments must have taken some time, yet the prize fight for which Josh was training at the start always seems far off in the future. The need to explain the addictive nature of Spice necessitates the clumsy use of a doctor appearing for just that purpose.
Unbreakable comes close to achieving Clifford's ambition with success limited only by the short running time. Hopefully Clifford will get the chance to rework the play in a longer format that will iron out the contrivances and allow the material to develop at a more natural, less forced, pace.
Reviewer: David Cunningham