A dirty weekend in one night at the Ramada Encore thanks to Prime Cut's production of Fiona Evans' Scarborough
A couple sit disconsolately on a bed in their underwear, sharing the space but distinctly separate from each other. The echoes of an argument replay around them, voices tight with emotion interrupting and correcting each other.
The audience shuffle obediently into the room that is the setting for Prime Cut’s production of Fiona Evans’ award-winning play Scarborough, adapted by director Emma Jordan, and take their seats along the wall. It feels like one of those dinner parties, where the hosts have had a blazing row just before you arrive.
In another play, another theatre, the undercurrent of slightly embarrassed discomfort that hangs about the audience might have killed the experience. Here, it’s the point. This is a private moment and we’re the voyeurs.
The play rewinds and starts with a jolt, Lauren and Daz bouncing off the bed and hurrying around the room as they get ready to go out. The audience isn’t entirely sure of where to put their eyes. The floor seems safest.
It’s Daz’s birthday and he downs knock-off WKD and smirks at himself in the mirror, cocky and sure of himself, while Lauren fusses and nips in and out of the bathroom. For a moment, the last moment, he seems like the one in control.
Then Lauren comes out of the bathroom, drooping and wringing her hands, and calls off the evening. What if someone saw them, someone from the school?
Daz, played by Brian Markey, is 15, it’s his 16th birthday tomorrow, and Lauren, played by Kathy Kiera Clarke, is his PE teacher. He thinks this is the start of something and she thinks it’s the end. This is the moment that everything starts to come apart.
It’s a controversial topic but Jordon handles it well. It doesn’t demonise or excuse the relationship, simply shows it to the audience and waits to see what they make of it. The characters themselves, just like in real-life, don’t exhibit an expositional self-awareness about their situation or their flaws.
Neither character, for example, notices the irony of roundly condemning a child molester in the paper when legally that is what Lauren is. Perhaps morally too – although that is for the audience to decide.
In the end they part ways, mouthing the bitter words we heard at the beginning of the piece, and the audience files out of the room and goes up a floor to another room. Along the way they pass other people in the hall, guests or some of the actors Jordan has hired to provide ambience? It's impossible to tell. Upstairs the couple are Aiden and Beth – a male PE teacher and his teenage pupil. The play is the same – word for word with only the gender pronouns changed – but different at the same time.
Daz is confident and self-possessed in the way that teenage lads who don’t know any better can be, not understanding that there are things they don’t understand. Beth is more brittle, less confident, but with greater emotional intelligence. Underneath all the pretence and desperation, there’s a sharp edge to Beth.
And while Lauren psychologically manipulates Daz, making him take responsibility for her decisions, there is a palpable sense of physical threat between Beth and Aiden. Lisa Hogg, the actress who plays Beth, is tiny, all pipe-stem arms and legs and big doe eyes, and Paul Kennedy as Aiden is a big man. During the confrontation at the end, even though you know it is just a play and one you have already seen, it is hard to ignore his clenched fist.
It is certainly an interesting experience, but does the play work?
Almost. On the whole it is an excellently written, carefully directed play with some very talented actors who hold their own on a difficult stage. The unusual staging is very effective, the audience is not only close enough to touch the actors but often need to take evasive maneuvers to avoid doing so, and there are some beautifully written moments that completely expose the power differential between the characters.
And while the play doesn't entirely succeed in making a hebephile a sympathetic character, they are pitiable.
However, it’s the second half of Scarborough that elevates the play into something unusual and powerful, commentary and not just mute reflection.
The problem is that it’s been done before, a minute ago and a floor below. Watching it again, picking out the tiny and not so tiny differences that gender makes to the play and the reactions to the play, is just not interesting enough to keep me fully engaged for another 40 minutes.
If Scarborough was just that hair shorter, two 30 minute pieces rather than two 40 minute pieces, it might have made all the difference between being excellent and being good.
Still, it is definitely worth going to see. If only so someone can check whether the woman tapping the door on the second floor and begging to be let in was part of the play or just real life.
Scarborough is playing at the Ramada Encore from April 29 to May 9 as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival