Wednesday, September 26, 2007

High Flying

Monday night and after the briefest of catch-ups with my flatmate Lisa in a Soho coffee bar, I darted over to Shepherd’s Bush, to the Bush Theatre for their new production of David Watson’s Flight Path.

Watson is 22 and this is his second play. A pretty conventional thing, structurally speaking, Flight Path concerns the problems and worries of eighteen year old Jonathan, an A level student whose parents have recently split up. He’s about to sit his exams and his 25 year old brother, who has learning disabilities, has just returned from a residential home so he’s having to help care for him as well. At the same time, his friend Joe is pestering him into joining him in a spot of house breaking. Pressure is piling on him from all directions and it soon takes its toll.

Inarticulacy is difficult to write and harder to perform. The stutters, the pauses, the half-finished sentences, it’s not that easy to replicate in any convincing fashion. But it’s something that Watson (not to mention the younger members of the cast) do well. You can see his characters searching for words, struggling to express themselves, their unvoiced feelings floating just beneath the surface.

While there’s nothing soul-piercingly brilliant about this play, I admired the way it avoided certain narrative traps, the way that it subtly subverted expectations. Jonathan’s social worker mother, for example, screams of clichĂ© when she first appears but she is allowed to be more than that. A woman who wallows in other people’s problems all day, she is as baffled and frustrated by life as her son. Jonathan’s relationship with his brother is also very tenderly sketched, his love muddied by frustration and the burden of responsibility.

I’ve seen a fair bit of this kind of theatre, theatre that, with its blurts of hip-hop between scenes attempts to be all urban and gritty and whatnot – it rarely convinces – but this was written with an uncommon level of compassion. Watson can also do dialogue, be it convincing street-smart banter or awkward father-son small-talk. And it’s, in the main, an emotionally plausible piece of writing, though it could do with being trimmed in some places and fleshed out in others (the episode with the suitcase full of cocaine felt like it had floated in from a completely different play – even though it provided the springboard for one of the funniest scenes - and it’s difficult to believe that the level-headed Jonathan would get so easily involved with serious criminal activity). Cary Crankson’s performance in the central role was excellent as well, striking just the right balance between snotty, adolescent arrogance and a more weighed down, worn out air.

The reviews for this one have been mixed, with most of the criticisms fair, though I thought Nicholas de Jongh was being picky in the extreme (he questions the realism of Jonathan having a menial job. Hello? Most people I know took on crappy jobs to see them through their A Levels, I certainly spent several mind-sapping weeks packing boxes in a factory, not to mention all those hours of my life poured into the retail machine).

Anyway, I'm spinning off-topic - an actual conclusion would be good at this point, wouldn't it? Flight Path has a number of flaws, without a doubt, but it's a very promising piece of work and it left me genuinely intrigued to see what Watson will do next.

Oh, and for more on the moonwalking, head over here.

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