Skin in the Game
Reviewed – 23rd July 2019
“The three leads perform their powerfully naturalistic lines with immaculate timing and almost exhilarating rancour”
In a crime and drugs plagued central Birmingham district, three siblings grapple with the seemingly everyday task of disposing of their father’s flat following his move to a care home. However, the central role of Jamie (Paul Westwood) is haunted by a gambling addiction, presaged even before the play opens by the sinister sounds of gaming machines. So, there’s a growing sense of unease from the off as Jamie bickers and banters first with his domineering brother Danny (Charlie Allen), then with his sister Michelle (Kathryn O’Reilly), run ragged by single-motherhood and poorly paid work leavened only by casual drug use. The filth-flecked dialogue flows in a breathless stream of malign gossip and invective, barely concealing all the characters’ craving for one form of instant gratification or another and the reduction of their relationships to the purely transactional.
What starts as a topical, issue-led drama heading for a morality tale ending, then shifts its ground in the last quarter with the appearance of the father himself (David Whitworth) in a flashback scene revealing a goodness behind Jamie’s fecklessness, and much badness elsewhere, turning kitchen sink realism into a slightly contrived whodunnit. On our way to this denouement we discover that documents have gone missing, the flat has been taken off the market, and the sinking feeling widens into a bottomless chasm, drawing all three in.
The three leads perform their powerfully naturalistic lines with immaculate timing and almost exhilarating rancour, with the refreshingly sympathetic role of their father bringing a well-judged counterpoint at the end. Direction by Clemmie Reynolds is just as precise, benefitting from some imaginative sound and lighting from Alex McNally. Emily Megson’s set somehow makes the grim, claustrophobic flat fill the ample Greenwich Theatre stage whilst making the grimy furnishings form a pleasing tableau and costume by Emily Ntinas is subtly spot on – literally, in the case of the stains ornamenting Michelle’s stretch jeans.
A very impressive full-length debut from Paul Westwood, though lacking in resonance for anyone expecting an indictment of the causes and culture behind these blighted lives. As satisfying as the twist is, and as masterly as the characterisations are, a move from social commentary to a plot revelation in flashback does entail a loss of emotional engagement, not to say a few questions in the mind of the audience as they leave.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Stephanie Claire
Skin in the Game
Previously reviewed at this venue: