Monday, 14 September 2009

Mixed Up North - Bolton Octagon

Mixed Up North
Writer: Robin Soans
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: John Roberts

Mixed Up North is the latest verbatim play to come from writer Robin Soans and between Stafford-Clark and Soans have produced some of the most significant plays of 21st century British theatre, and it was only a matter of time, that the problems and difficulties of the Greater Manchester borough of Burnley is used as the basis of a play.

Soans to start with seems to have found an interesting angle at which to anchor his play – the lives of the young people who live in the area, how the politics and racial tensions from other members of the community and their own families effect their day to day lives, but even Soans can’t escape creating and merging what would seem as his own political voice and agenda into the piece. The writing never really lets you care for the stories we hear being told to us and this is partly due to teh fact that the play loses direction especially in the second act. The play intersperses far too many stories/voices for you to care about any of them, flipping from naturalistic dialogue between the characters to direct address to the audience unfortunately it doesn’t work.

Stafford-Clark’s direction is key to keeping the play interesting and for the majority he manages to keep the pace flowing and moving, using various levels and areas of the thrust auditorium of the Bolton Octagon, this reviewer did feel sorry for those in the balcony areas as a fair bit of the action was played directly under their seating area.

The set of a youth centre is designed beautifully by Jonathan Fensom and to the majority used well, however it is highly underutilised in the second act and many of the pieces almost seem superfluous to what is really needed.

Where this production stands strong is in its actors, producing a real chemistry on stage and often highly charged and truthful performances. Stephanie Street’s performance as youth worker Aneesa is superb and probably the stand out performance of the night. With notable performances also given by Asif Khan as Aftab, who loves nothing better than standing on the outside and filming everything that goes wrong, probably to get onto Youtube as soon as possible. Lisa Kerr’s performance as bitchy and aggressive fame seeking wannabe Kylie is as shap as the insults that she throws out to the other characters on stage.

This is a play that could have really sent out a strong message, but Soans’ script is flawed in a sense that it still feels like it doesn’t know where to place itself, is this true verbatim or is this a naturalistic play? An enjoyable evening but leaves you with more frustrations at the possibility of what the play could have been and that unfortunately leaves a bitter taste in my mouth!

Photos: Ian Tilton
Runs until Sat 26th September

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