Sunday, 18 November 2012

Chapel Street @ RADAR2012

Fresh from summer success at Edinburgh, Chapel Street burst on to the Bush stage in a frenzy of bubbles, neon wigs, squirty foam and mini-scooters. Luke Barnes new play is pure storytelling, bringing to life two engrossing characters, Joe and Kirsty, who collide on one extreme night out. It is a high octane piece, which made me feel as drunk as the young protagonists who rush about the stage recreating their respective sides of the story. It demands concentration to follow the two separate but converging strands, told in tandem and at high-speed, but the effort is worth the rewards. After initial confusion, I quickly became drawn in to their tale, eager to know where it was all rushing towards.

Ria Zmitrowicz (Kirsty) does a drunk 16 year old really well: arms waving furiously, chest stuck out and a voice between sing-song and whine. Young, naive and optimistic, she will do whatever it takes to go to university and get a better life, no matter what her teachers say. Joe (Theo Barklem-Biggs) is more laid-back, warm and sympathetic. He would be labelled as lazy scum by the Daily Mail and he knows it, but he is totally disillusioned. While he recognises that he should probably take a boring service job, he thinks that would be soul destroying and wishes he could really achieve something with his life.

While Chapel Street is commendable for these wholly convincing and honest young characters, what makes it so powerful is that key issues of contemporary society aren’t shoved in your face but emerge between the lines and bubble away in your subconscious. The protagonists' lives are bounded by enduring class prejudice, the shadow of war, paedophilia and teenage pregnancy, the true weight of which can’t be felt in their drunken state but lurks in the background. Weirdly, the result is a strange sense of optimism – no matter the obstacles, Kirsty and Joe’s energy cannot, will not, falter.

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