Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bottleneck - review

Written By: Lily Grouse (@LilyKG)

Soho Theatre, London

This is one of those occasions in which I was genuinely blown away. Bottleneck is a powerful script, and its realisation on stage is just as strong. Playwright Luke Barnes captures the 1989 Hillsborough disaster with a sensitive and personal approach, his piece bursting in equal measure with moments of trauma and comedy. I urge you not to pass up the opportunity to see it. 

Just to bring you up to scratch: the Hillsborough disaster was a human crush that occurred during the FA Cup final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield. It resulted in 96 fatalities and nearly 800 injuries, making it one of the worst and most controversial football disasters to date, and one that is ingrained in the identity of Liverpool Football Club.

Bottleneck explores the build up to the disaster through the eyes of 14-year-old Greg, beautifully performed by James Cooney in an impressive one-man-show. For the first half an hour, his amusing portrayal of teenage angst and vivacity makes you forget about the disaster alluded to in the play's title - I was completely taken in by his playful impressions of friends and family, and anecdotes about school life. Becoming absorbed in Greg's life before the match means that the tragedy of the crush creeps up on you. As the events unfurled, goose bumps prickled my skin - and that's saying something when the studio was hotter than the sun. Do make sure you accept the usher's offer of a glass of water before being seated, or you might shrivel like an autumn leaf under the heat of the stage lights.

Barnes, Cooney, and director Steven Atkinson deserve congratulations for their collaborative manipulation of the audience's emotions. I was taken from tears of laughter to tears of terror as Greg went from jokingly impersonating his father to describing the experience of being trapped in the crowd. I felt claustrophobic, although Cooney stood alone on stage- his performance transported me so that I felt as though I was in the throng with him. Having studied drama for most of my academic life, I was surprised to find that I could not scrutinise the performance, but only lose myself in it. I was completely captivated.

As a Liverpool supporter who has visited the Hillsborough memorial outside Anfield (the home of Liverpool FC) many times, I found myself particularly affected by the piece. However, on glancing at the faces of fellow audience members, it was clear to see that this personal connection was not the only reason for my strong reaction. It had nothing to do with loyalty to a team; it was a feeling of empathy evoked by Cooney's masterful performance.

Ultimately, Bottleneck deals with the universal experiences of friendship and loss, and the trials and tribulations of growing up, in a beautiful collision of writing and performance. It's a proud moment for new writing in this country and I look forward to seeing more of Barnes' work in the future!

This production runs until 9 March 2013.
@sohotheatre @_HighTide_

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