“the model example of what a filmed theatre production should be like”
Papatango once again proved themselves fully deserving of their mighty reputation when Shook hit stages after winning the 2019 prize, with the production amassing widespread critical and audience acclaim. In place of the show’s West End transfer which had to be cancelled, it was instead filmed and will be available to watch throughout February 2021. Does the production translate well to film, though? In a word – absolutely.
Shook follows three young offenders – Jonjo (Josef Davies), Cain (Josh Finan), and Riyad (Ivan Oyik) – who are taking parenting classes from Grace (Andrea Hall) in the hope of being good fathers when they get out of incarceration. The ramifications of their murky pasts collide with their aspirations for their futures, forming a poignantly scathing critique of a system that seems more focused on punishment than potential.
It’s Samuel Bailey’s debut full-length play, but you wouldn’t be able to tell – the pacy dialogue consistently feels organic, finding light in dark places while not shying away from frankness where needed. Bailey’s script never punches down, instead ensuring that we root for and empathise with people who are otherwise so often demonised. By giving us a window into these characters’ hopes, jokes, quirks, and fears, Bailey’s script provides vital and stellar humanisation.
The actors elevate this even further. All three men deliver beautifully detailed and textured performances, adding colour and heart to more moments than could be counted. The contrast between Davies explaining the crime he committed with knife-edge tension, and the warmth he displays when playing board games with Riyad is powerful. The moments of weakness and vulnerability that Oyik and Finan pepper into their characters’ bravados are hugely impactful, and are counterpointed excellently by their comedic flairs – particularly whenever they have to demonstrate anything parenting-related in their classes, such as performing CPR or changing a nappy. The dynamic between the three totally moreish, and only gets more nuanced in scenes with Hall’s compassionate but firm Grace.
The direction serves to capture all these moments perfectly – directors George Turvey and James Bobin don’t go overboard with the filming, forgoing any fancy cinematography save for some CCTV view shots between scenes. There’s also an opening sequence of shots highlighting the extraordinary detail of Jasmine Swan’s set design, which effectively helps to establish the place and tone. Shook is maturely and respectfully filmed throughout, ensuring that the cameras are always putting the characters and their story at its centre.
Shook is the model example of what a filmed theatre production should be like – it flawlessly translates the stage experience without losing any of the magic, and there is a lot of magic on offer with this show. Shook is incisive but never preachy, opting instead to lay bare the hearts of a group of people we’re conditioned to think are heartless.
“a very human story that pulls off the almost impossible feat of making you feel nostalgic for Thatcher’s Britain”
It is 1984 in London, and while Thatcher and Scargill are at loggerheads over the miner’s strike elsewhere, the city is setting the scene for its own battles in a time of cultural upheaval. There was a revolutionary spirit, partly fuelled by the property boom, that eventually found itself in the hands of the satirists. While Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good” speech echoed from Wall Street, our home grown “Loadsamoney” became a national catchphrase. But among the cacophony, a quieter voice, in the shape of the late writer Stephen Jeffreys, captured the mood with far more humanity and subtlety. “Valued Friends” was the play that launched Jeffreys’ career and won him the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Award for most Promising Playwright.
In its first major revival in thirty years, the comedy and pathos still resonate in today’s turbulent economic and political climate. Yet the beauty of Jeffreys’ writing lies in his refusal to allow the social issues to take centre stage. They are merely the backdrop to the razor-sharp depiction of the characters, which makes his writing both era specific and timeless.
In a basement flat in Earls Court, four friends in their mid-thirties are scrabbling to keep their heads above water. They are thrown unexpectedly into a battle of nerves when a young, confident property developer offers them a substantial fee to vacate their home. Spurred on by the revolutions of their time, they quickly realise that they hold all the cards in this real-life game of Monopoly and, over the course of three years, they manipulate the burgeoning property market. But much more is at stake than a few quid, and that is what the audience cares about.
“How much do you care?” asks quirky, stand-up comic Sherry in the opening line. It is the beginning of a hilarious monologue about her journey home on the Underground, one of many delivered by Natalie Casey in a spellbinding performance that is a master class in comic timing. Meanwhile Michael Marcus’ Howard, an academic writing about the corruption of capitalism, is succumbing to the attraction of the pound signs waved in front of him. Marion and Paul make up the close-knit foursome destined to be torn apart. “You used to get some really good conversation in this flat. Burning issues and moral dilemmas and things. Now all everyone talks about is money”. Sam Frenchum, as Paul, brilliantly sheds his comic mantle as the keen music journalist to become the earnest home improvement enthusiast, while Catrin Stewart’s straight-talking, pragmatic Marion manages to pull our heartstrings as she discovers that the more she gains, the more she has to lose – on a purely personal level. Ralph Davis’ meticulously pitched estate agent, Scott, is a brilliant work of satire. Far from being a Mephistophelian figure he merely dangles the carrot. But show stealer is Nicholas Tennant as Stewart, who only appears in the second act as the hilarious, surreally philosophical builder.
Michael Fentiman’s sharp direction brings out the best of the actors on Michael Taylor’s simple yet ingenious set, that transforms in time-lapse motion from a scruffy basement flat to a swish, desirable property. This is a very human story that pulls off the almost impossible feat of making you feel nostalgic for Thatcher’s Britain. Richard Hammarton’s eighties soundtrack highlights the best of the decade, just as these characters shed a warm light on the heart of the matter. It’s a skilfully written and performed piece of modern satire: you shouldn’t like these people but, in answer to the opening question of the play, you care an awful lot.