Plastic (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: April 8, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Kenneth Emson      Director: Josh Roche


With news stories again dominated by sickening violence on London’s streets, the arrival in the city of Essex playwright Kenneth Emson’s Plastic is about as timely as it could get. The 70-minute verse play, a dark thriller first seen at the 2015 Latitude Festival, gives a devastating account of how peer pressure tears into the lives of young people and wrecks them.

Kev (played by Mark Weinman with cocky assurance touched by vulnerability), once captain of the school football team, has experienced a rapid fall from hero to zero. His post-school life has been one of menial work and queues at the Job Centre, but now he waits at the school gates for Lisa, who has signalled that she will surrender her virginity to him on that evening. Madison Clare is remarkably strong as the girl torn between old loyalties and the lure of the in-crowd that hangs around her school’s football team.

In stark terms, Emson’s play shows how the inevitable by-product of an in-crowd is an out crowd. Ben, played by Thomas Coombes as if he is a pressure cooker filled with boiling anger, is an outsider, not one of the popular people, not a member of the football team. Even a friendly voice taunts him with “what are you, gay or something?” when he declines to go with the flow and he looks increasingly disturbed as he repeatedly murmurs a list of American school massacres and takes bloody revenge on a dead creature in his Biology class.

Emson fills the play with images of the futility felt in working class communities where young lives can be seen to be as readily disposable as single-use plastic. Where is the escape for these characters? Jack, seems the most grounded of the four, but, helped largely by the thoughtful performance of Louis Greatorex, he becomes the most interesting. He forsakes the popular people to befriend the isolated Ben, taking the taunts of “faggot” himself and jeopardising his friendship (and possible romance) with Lisa. It takes time for us to realise how much the divisions within the school are taking their toll on Jack.

Josh Roche’s taut production grips like a vice. We feel from the beginning that the ingredients are in place for something dreadful to happen, but it is not knowing exactly what that gives the play its unrelenting air of suspense. Sophie Thomas’ all black set is decorated only by hanging multi-coloured light bulbs and Peter Small’s carefully judged lighting design heightens the tension. 

When the denouement arrives, it is as unexpected as it is shocking. Plastic is a short play, but not a small one. It is topical, universally relevant and it hits home with the force of a sledgehammer.

Photo: Matthew Foster

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Performance date: 6 April 2018

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