The Liverpool theatres are known for their investment in new writing, and in Laurence Wilson, a former writer-on-attachment, it has clearly paid off – his latest offering proving that the quality of their output is as significant as the quantity
A toy car encircling a miniature house sets the scene for his off-beat urban folk tale – a central image inspired by the lonely farmhouse in the middle of the M62.
In Wilson’s vision, the house is a hideaway for “old, mad” Richard – a sometime entomologist whose hermit-like existence is shaken when a trio of runaways land on his doorstep, taking shelter after a car crash leaves them stranded.
The creaky old building fast becomes a safe haven that they are all are reluctant to leave, for all four characters are fugitives in their own way. Pregnant teenager Sian is fleeing her overbearing family, Mickey and Jonesy, from the tragedies of their past. And Richard is hiding away from a world he has long ceased to understand.
Performances at first fall a little flat, but quickly gather momentum, led by the frenetic energy of Kevin Trainor as Jonesy. His is a difficult role – a sugar-fuelled autistic genius – but Trainor’s portrayal manages to be both comedic and sensitive, and never once threatens to become a caricature, as it so easily could.
Rebecca Ryan’s tough-cookie Sian isn’t a world away from the wayward Debbie in Channel 4’s Shameless, but she puts in a performance far more accomplished than her years to deliver a distinctly different character. Nick Moss is convincing as hard case Mickey, and Joe McGann is as magnetic as ever as the enigmatic Richard – whose magical charm keeps the audience guessing until well after the final curtain.
The play, directed by Matt Wilde, is laced with a kind of fairytale mysticism. The plot is woven with elements of fantasy like a self-playing piano and a mid-May snow shower, and heightened by dark, ethereal electronic music.
But these otherworldly touches are anchored by the recurring sound of traffic and sirens the noise of the real world, which they can never truly escape.
Stage designer Simon Daw has created a mesmerising set to represent this – twisted metalwork wraps around the stage to signify the encircling motorway, as well as evoking a sense of the cold, cruel world outside. Giant, glowing, honeycomb structures are built into secret cupboards and beneath floorboards – emphasising the play’s point that these people are all outsiders who have become “lost in the drone.”
Each character’s story is beautifully crafted, and Jonesy’s journey has particular poignance. As he struggles to remember the repressed pain in his past, touches of peverse humour (and an inpromptu round of Mastermind) make his eventual mental breakdown all the more affecting.
Wilson’s script is bang up to date – issues ranging from MPs’ expenses to the mysteriously vanishing population of bees are deftly handled, and hold up our society for equal parts mockery and scrutinity.”Capitalism without bankruptcy”, Richard observes bleakly, “is like Christianity without a Hell.”
Prepared for Armageddon with endless tins of emergency rations and protective chemical suit, Richard personifies a country overcome with swine flu hysteria, and his paranoia, pieced together from scraps of tabloid newspapers sends up the media as the proprietor of doom that it is.
But despite its bleak outlook, the drama ends with a flicker of hope, as the characters finally escape their fugitive lives, vowing to “put some magic back into the world” – and Wilson can enjoy a post-play pint in the knowledge that he has certainly put a little bit back into the theatre.