YOUTHFUL YEARNINGS A CONTAINER PORT CAN’T CONTAIN…
You grow up with your mates in a dead-end town, and you’re a solid gang – five a side footie team, in and out of each other’s houses since you were all six – but some of you start to grow away. From the same street and school some lads will be builders or roofers, like Pidge and Smudge and Frankie, but some will get on and out. Like Dan, who went to “uni” and is headed for a job in Hong Kong, in a suit.
Today they’re all in suits, mind, because they’ve come from Frankie’s funeral. Three are perched on a Southend dockyard container, bantering , farting, quarrelling like so many Likely Lads. Dan is on the ground, not joining in. Maybe he knows more about Frankie’s death than they do. Any minute the lost boy’s girlfriend Kirsty will turn up, to do a ceremonial loosing of black balloons in his memory.
Luke Norris’ 2013 Bruntwood prizewinner – on its way to the Royal Exchange in Manchester next week – is beautifully staged under the festival’s director Steven Atkinson, with the looming scruffy container delivering a fine coup de theatre halfway through its 90 minutes as we flash back to Frankie’s last day alive. We see him and learn more about what drove him to that “accident”. After the banteringly uneasy opening – often very funny – Norris leads us smartly through the pressures and doubtfulness of growing up as a young man whose education and chances are cut off, and whose yearning for an outer world will always be at the expense of the safety that lies in what he knows.
Daniel Kendrick is wonderful as Frankie: eager, doubtful, confusedly fascinated by the immigrant Latvian workmate only he pays attention to, and struggling emotionally with the need to escape more than Southend itself. His girlfriend Kirsty, Jade Anouka, is a fulfilled busy primary-school teacher and doesn’t see it; no more do the three team-mates, Mark Weinman the calmer of the them is engaged, an endearing Dorian Jerome SImpson is the pie-eating Smudge, nicely combining apparent dimness with a fiercer emotional intelligence than the rest; and there’s a rackety, cracking debut from Sam Melvin as the motormouth PIdge.
Each of them has in some way misunderstood Frankie, though they loved him. Dan (Ciaran Owens, broodingly present in his silence through the banter) knows better than anyone why it broke down. Comedy and sadness melt together. And as word-of-mouth is particularly interesting in these festival moments, I can report that members of the Aldeburgh audience, inhabiting quite another sort of East Anglian town, class, and outlook, spoke afterwards with real empathy, real sorrow for the world’s Frankies. Which is as it should be.
http://www.hightidefestival.org transferring to Royal Exchange, Manchester 24th.