Inarticulacy is difficult to write and harder to perform. The stutters, the pauses, the half-finished sentences, it’s not that easy to replicate in any convincing fashion. But it’s something that young playwright David Watson does well. You can see his characters searching for words, struggling to express themselves, their unvoiced feelings floating just beneath the surface.
Watson is just 22 and this is his second play produced on the London stage. Flight Path concerns eighteen year old Jonathan. His parents have recently split, he’s about to sit his A levels and he has a 25 year old brother with learning disabilities, whom he has to help care for. Jonathan is bright and academically able (he’s predicted three As and a B in his A levels) but the pressures placed him, to look after his older brother, to bump that fourth B up to an A, are taking their toll.
His part time job at the airport isn’t helping lots of night shifts but he enjoys hanging out with his old school friend Joe (mouthy and street hardened in a way Jonathan is not) and Joe’s girlfriend Lauren. And when Joe suggests an inventive (and illegal) way of making some extra cash, Jonathan goes along with it that despite his reservations.
While the set-up is conventional, the play constantly side-steps the narrative traps you expect it to fall into. With its between scene blurts of hip-hop, I initially feared this would be a tiresome, angst ridden piece of ‘issue’ theatre, but it subtly subverts expectations on various levels. Jonathan’s social worker mother, for example, screams of clich when she first appears but she soon reveals an inner warmth. A woman who wallows in other people’s problems all day, she allows the stress of her job to bleed into her family life, but she is in an impossible situation, struggling to do right by both her children, and in both cases uncertain how to do so.
Jonathan’s relationship with his brother, love muddied by frustration and the burden of responsibility, is also affecting to watch, aided by a superb performance by Cary Crankson, as the cynical, occasionally brattish and resentful, but clearly weighed down Jonathan. He is ably supported by Scott Swadkins, as Daniel, Jonathan’s brother, and Ashley Madekwe as Lauren, an observant, intelligent girl with a big heart buried underneath her street-smart banter.
Watson’s play is ambitious and emotionally plausible, though it could do with being trimmed in some places and fleshed out in others the suitcase full of cocaine that crops up midway through the play is completely out of place and it’s difficult to believe that the generally grounded Jonathan would get so easily involved with serious criminal activity.
The sweetly hopeful ending may be quite simple, but it feels refreshing given the fact that a tragic denouement is almost obligatory in plays of this nature the writing again upending expectations in a welcome manner. Watson writes his younger characters more convincingly than the older ones, but I think that’s to be expected given his age and I’m truly excited to see what he does next.