About a Goth

Staged Assault bring Tom Well's pithy play to the Black Box, chipped black nail varnish and all

I like goths. Everyone likes goths. They're funny. They're like cockroaches, aren't they? Still scuttling about after the end of pop tribalism, eating crisps and being politely loud outside City Hall. Like the poor, the goths will always be with us.

So I was looking forward to Staged Assault's triumphant return to the Black Box with Tom Wells' About a Goth. But it isn't really about a goth. The central character wears eye-liner and at one point mentions listening to Marilyn Manson, but this flouncing, woe is me flummery is your dad's idea of a goth.

Worse, it's like the moment in a 1990s sit-com where Linda Bellingham's daughter decides to 'go goth'. Goths have interests. They have shared ideas. They don't appear in isolation, they pop up in clusters in the night, like mushrooms. Nothing about this play rings true to me.

Nick, our protagonist, wears a cloak, which is fair enough, but he also wears jeans and trainers, which isn't. He paints his bedroom black, because, y'know, that's the sort of thing that goths do. But then he listens to the Sugababes on his iPod. I'm not saying it's impossible for a goth to like 'Push the Button', but it hardly adds to the verisimilitude.

It feels half-baked, glib, as if playwright, Tom Wells, has seen some goths chucking chips to seagulls and thought 'I could write a play about that'. Even some of the throwaway lines sound undernourished. Nick briefly entertains the notion of selling flat-pack coffins to Ikea before concluding gloomily that 'I doubt they have goths in Sweden'. Either Nick is perversely unaware of Scandinavia's church burning uber-goths, or Wells has entirely failed to do his research.

The story follows Nick, our gothique 17-year-old hero, the son of cheerful Medieval Recreationists, who, apparently, drink mead for breakfast. His mother 'drops her fluted sleeve into my Nesquik'. The play is littered with lines like this, little whinnets of comic detail, sharp observations, pithily employed. Unfortunately they are all but smothered by Rob Killalay's depiction of Nick as a declamatory, eye-rolling foot-stomper.

Nick works in an old people's home as a volunteer. It's not exactly clear why he does this, but as he is the sort of goth who has a black duvet and reads The Idiot, I presume it's an attempt to wrestle with the philosophical profundities of life. While there he is introduced to an elderly racist named Rod.

Clearly this is going to be the crux of the piece, tilting on an Adrian Mole/Bert Baxter dynamic: pretentious young boy meets and ultimately learns from repulsive, older man. But this doesn't really happen, though at Rod's death we get the biggest laugh of the play as Nick is visibly excited at the prospect of witnessing a death 'after only three weeks of volunteering'.

This glee doesn't last though as Nick learns from this momentary transition about the banality of death. Life goes on in the retirement home, the other residents barely miss Rod. His death has changed nothing except Nick, who emerges from this brush with the eternal a kinder, more tolerant man. Or at least less of a death-obsessed goth.

Suddenly Nick realises how delightful his parents are, with all their quirks, and how his sister – who barely exists in the play beyond the strangulated, sing-song cartoon we are offered from Nick's impressions – is actually a really nice person. When Nick decides to paint his bedroom magnolia its a fairly pat way of suggesting he has put away childish things.

There are good things in this play, some nice lines and some good staging effects. Nick's oxygen-starved flashback to his parent's re-enactment of the Battle of Agincourt, for example, is simply but effectively achieved. And I'm going to assume that the pronunciation of the hard 'T' in Agincourt is a character note.

But this production of About a Goth is too often marred by an incoherent and hysterical central performance and an under-fed story-line. And, of course, this isn't really a play about a goth. It's the story of a stereotypical, misunderstood teenager. The gothicisms feel painted on, like so much chipped black nail varnish.

Visit the Black Box website for information on forthcoming events.