Verbatim theatre is always difficult to pull off. The skill of the writer lies in teasing out the threads of the interesting and the truthful from an inevitably unreliable narrator, and this is a trick that Davey Anderson has achieved with aplomb in ThickSkin Theatre Company’s debut production, Blackout.
Anderson, of course, is a well-known name in Scottish theatre, having written and directed a number of plays including Snuff at The Arches and Rupture for the National Theatre of Scotland. Blackout was originally devised and performed as part of the Citizens Theatre’s youth programme, and the teenage perspective gained from this process breathes from every line.
The Glasgow voice is tough and uncompromising, and suits this tale of a young offender perfectly. We follow James (Tom Vernel), a bit of an outcast at school and living with a violent father, through his journey from bullied goth to headcase skinhead, and how he becomes a walking time bomb, simply waiting for an opportunity to blow up and hurt someone.
The young cast performs brilliantly, incorporating elements of dance into their performance in a way that never seems forced. Comparisons to Frantic Assembly’s excellent Beautiful Burnout would not be unjustified. Vernel deserves particular praise for his portrayal of James, moving from blessed moments of happiness with his grandfather to a black misery constantly on the verge of explosion.
If there were one criticism to level at this otherwise wonderful piece of theatre, it would be that the youth perspective is almost too catered to – James is a product of his upbringing, of domestic abuse and bullying at school. He is never presented as having much choice in his actions – society has made him the way he is. A more rounded perspective, for example more input from his struggling mother, would be a welcome addition.
Billed as a 45-minute smack in the face, Blackout is indeed an interesting work, but whether it’s really going to alter any perceptions of young offenders remains to be seen.
Underbelly, 5-29 Aug, 2.55pm