Alex Oates’ thrilling new play Silk Road (How to buy drugs online), has transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2, after critical acclaim at The Vaults and The Edinburgh Fringe. For those not in the know, the inspiration behind the story is ‘Silk Road’, an online black market on the dark web (like a secret eBay)- where until 2013 you could order anything from drugs to weapons anonymously online and have them delivered to your doorstep.
The antihero of this story is Bruce, a 19-year-old Geordie who has just lost his girlfriend to her posh new university friends down in Plymouth. Living with his Nan, and out of work, he finds himself thrust into the underworld of Whitely Bay. He first gains an unwanted job as a DJ for the local godfather figure, Mr Shaggy, and then stumbles upon a new found trade. Bruce is an unlikely pioneer, selling cocaine that he buys from the Silk Road and stores in his Nan’s hand knitted tea cosies.
Josh Barrow, the sole actor, tells this coming of age story single handedly, jumping from character to character with seamless accuracy. As Bruce, he is vulnerable and self conscious. As Bruce’s Nan, he is heart warming and an absolute joy to watch, and as his boss Mr Shaggy, he delivers a stand out motivational Michael Jackson sing a long. In short Barrow’s performance is a tour de force whose physicality, energy and vulnerability make him a delight to watch. Oates’ text is almost spoken word-like at times, with detailed, vivid story telling that director Dominic Shaw lifts off the page to make the audience part of the journey.
The soul of the piece has to be Bruce’s relationship with his Nan, which not only has us in stitches of laughter with Nan’s witty one liners and knowing observations of her grandson, but also demonstrates a really poignant and touching parent/carer relationship between grandson and grandmother.
This piece is a whirlwind. An innocent Geordie lad struggling to not get left behind becomes a drug dealer, and his unknowing Nan gets all of her mates in on the racket to keep up with the demand for tea cosies. Filled with colourful characters and an insight into the ‘Silk Road’, and the underground black market online, this piece is unique. Barrow is sensational, and it is not to be missed.