Courttia Newland’s new play takes inner-city youth as its jumping off point, but swiftly vaults into a dreamlike world of pain and desire that’s more like an allegory for the teenage condition. Angela Michaels’s production has strong acting and bright ideas but struggles to rise to the considerable challenge: how to represent, on one warehouse set in two 30-minute scenes, the literal and metaphorical selves of teenagers Doubt (Kandace Caine), Obs (Ashley J), Braun (Frank C Keogh) and Inno (Joe Jacobs).
The rude, ripe language of London schools and estates is a happy hunting ground for dialogue writers. When the house is filled by a school party, simply saying, ‘Oh my days!’ brings it down. But Newland’s writing is more than street pastiche: its downbeat lyricism dilates the angry concrete setting like a spray-paint rainbow.
Every metaphor looks upwards, most memorably a beautiful vision of a daytime crescent moon as a thumbnail scratch on the bloodless flesh of the sky. The plot is more situation than story: kids seek their lost friend and hide from their imagined enemies.
And some characters are clearer than others: Joe Jacobs’s Inno delivers a blissful monologue about the smells and sounds of childhood happiness while Ashley J’s Obs is a writer who is semi-detached from the world he’s in – and will bring back shades of ‘The Scholar’ for Newland fans.
All resolve into clearer focus when they shrug off the dream and become literal, bickering schoolfriends. What’s real? Frustratingly, it’s never clear. But this elusive new short appeals by keepin’ it dreamlike.