In the small and intimate Old Red Lion pub theatre, a blue plastic bag lies, almost indistinguishably, in the middle of a dark stage. The rest of the space is empty, with the exception of a few rigged lightbulbs that travel to different corners of the room as the four characters in Plastic tell the story of their youth.
Lisa is Ben and Jack’s once-friend-turned-popular-girl, and is dating Kev, the former champion of the All-Essex Schools Football Cup Final. Despite his fast car, Kev is now former glory, however, and Lisa is the only thing that gives him joy in this “shitty little town turned shitty little city”. Ben gets bullied. A lot. Luckily, he has a loyal friend in Jack – but as this play proves, loyalty and spite combined might result in something dangerous…
This captivating thriller by Kenneth Emson is excellently brought to life in a clean production without any unnecessary bells and whistles. The acting is superb, with Madison Clare stealing the show as the cocky yet vulnerable Lisa. Although sometimes a little too fast to fully digest every word, the actors spit out their lines with a sharp urgency. Their delivery is so good that it takes a while to realise that some of the text is actually in rhyming verse, almost giving the play a modern Shakespearean vibe as the drama unfolds.
Although dealing with a fair few heavy topics, ranging from toxic masculinity to school hierarchies, bullying and mental health, the play still has many light-hearted, funny moments. The characters evoke a sense of identification and recognition, as we remember our own school days while they recall theirs.
Memory plays a big part in the play, which might explain why the ending is quite ambiguous. Perhaps too ambiguous to really strike a note, but it throws an interesting light on the truthfulness of the storytelling. Regardless, this is one of those plays that leaves you slightly entranced as emerge from the dark, and the contrast with the jolly pub you have to walk through on your way out couldn’t be starker. Certainly a night to remember.
Images: Matthew Foster
Merel Van ‘t Hooft