“a story which is both funny and moving, with fantastic timing and energy”
In Medway, Ollie and Ashley are about to celebrate their three month relationship. They are both sixteen. Ollie is certain that tonight is the night. He’s cooked her dinner, sent her flowers at school, which maybe he shouldn’t have done but anyway, he’s sure he’s done everything right. Only he’s paranoid that because of his leg, she won’t like him. Ashley isn’t certain she can go through with this. She’s the resident sexual health expert at school, four leaflets on every subject, always four, it’s got to be four. And what if they have sex and then – and then …
Ashley struggles with OCD. She thinks no one knows about it, and spends her life buried in her own coping mechanisms, doing her best to hide what she is dealing with. Written by Natalie Mitchell, this is a show about what normal is, or isn’t, about no one really being normal, whatever that means after all. It’s a show about young love, sex, and self-acceptance. And it talks about all this with humour.
Francesca Henry and Jake Richards as Ashley and Ollie respectively, are fantastic individually and lovely together, well directed by Grace Gummer. The relationship between them, with all its complexities, is believable throughout. They deliver a story which is both funny and moving, with fantastic timing and energy, underscored by a youth and vulnerability that the play is made by.
The two tell the story out to the audience, never quite together onstage even though they are onstage together, until the final scene, where they actually speak to each other directly.
Lizzy Leech’s set is split into four strips. A strip of that grey school corridor flooring they always use, especially in science corridors. Another strip of patterned wallpaper, grey bordering on silver. The third is dark grey, full colour, the last one grey tiles. Across its walls and the floor at various points in the piece, Kristallnacht is projected, letter by letter, spelt out as a coping mechanism.
The ending isn’t as strong or as believable as the rest of the play. Something about it feels too easy, too conclusive. But the journey we are taken on leading up to this point is an intelligent and engaging one, honest and lively as it talks about such an important issue.
“A relevant, well-acted play with brilliant story concept. If Wood can work out the kinks in the script, Alcatraz could be a powerful show”
On Christmas Eve, 11-year-old Sandy embarks on a rescue mission: she’s going to break her granny out of the care home where they’ve locked her up. Sandy’s seen Escape from Alcatraz enough times – if Clint Eastwood can do it, so can she. The exasperated head nurse and a well-meaning new staff member are just two of the many obstacles between Sandy, her gran, and freedom.
Alcatraz, written by Nathan Lucky Wood and directed by Emily Collins, questions the state of elderly care in modern society. It’s an excellent premise for a vital topic. A child equating her grandmother’s care home with Alcatraz, and carrying out a plan to rescue her, is a scintillating approach to the social commentary. It’s a promising concept that hasn’t quite reached its potential.
The beginning of the play is confusing. Sandy (Katherine Carlton) monologues about papier-mâché, and narrates her journey breaking into ‘Alcatraz’ while reciting the plot of Escape from Alcatraz. These sections feel as long as it inevitably does when an overeager person is describing their favourite film. It’s difficult to care, and Wood hasn’t given us a reason to. Unless you’ve read the programme (which the script should not require), it’s unclear what Sandy’s doing or where she is. The disorientation creates a sense of detachment: if we don’t know her mission, we cannot be invested in whether she’ll achieve it. Additionally, a child breaking into a prison (or care home) has little stakes. What will happen if she’s caught? A reprimand and a call home. The scenario doesn’t inspire the sort of apprehension necessary to hold interest without any context to support it.
The story picks up when Sandy reaches her gran, and they make their escape. There’s good interaction between the characters and solid acting all around. The adult Carlton is impressively convincing as an 11-year-old. Josh Asaré is charming as flustered trainee-carer Peter. Ellie Dickens brings adept lightness to Donna, Sandy’s grandmother who is suffering from dementia. Although described as “not nice”, Lainy Boyle brings humanity to burned-out head nurse Arden.
The script continues to hit snags. The faltering pace makes the play feel far longer than its 60-minute runtime. An abundance of opportunities for humour aren’t fully capitalised on. There’s an attempt to pack what could be a second full-length play into the final ten minutes: Sandy’s father (Alec Nicholls) is introduced, along with a barrage of information about his relationship with Sandy and Donna, and Sandy’s absent mother. The scene quickly escalates to melodrama that isn’t necessarily earned, considering we’re just meeting the father. We don’t have the connection to him we need to feel his devastation as he confronts his failings. This is an intriguing, complicated family. It’s a shame the play only scratches their surface at the very end.
Alcatraz is a relevant, well-acted play with brilliant story concept. If Wood can work out the kinks in the script, Alcatraz could be a powerful show.