A seaside hotel room, complete with peeling wallpaper and cigarette burns on the carpet. A man and a woman sit on the bed. Her eye make is smudged; he looks down at his trainers. It is clear that this is the end of something. What gives this scenario an edge is the age gap. He is just fifteen, she is pushing thirty she is also his teacher.
Fiona Evans play was incredibly well received at last years Edinburgh fringe festival. But the version that she has brought to the Royal Court has been substantially revised. It now has a new second half, where an identical scenario is played out, only this time with the genders reversed: a girl of fifteen and older male teacher. The dialogue remains the same but the dynamics have shifted. Its an intriguing idea, but it doesnt quite work, in fact it ends up undermining the writing in the long run.
The upstairs performance space at the Royal Court has been completely reconfigured to resemble a Scarborough hotel room, forcing audience members to either squat on the floor or perch on the furniture, as the actors move around them. This gives an added intimacy to the production, and at times it feels almost too intrusive, watching this unsustainable relationship crumbling before your eyes.
In the first half, tight, powerful performances by Holly Atkins and Jack OConnell hold the piece together. OConnell, in particular, is spot on, cocky and supremely sure of himself, at times mature for his years yet when he is given a PSP as a present he bounces on the bed with undisguised glee. When the roles are switched in the second half Rebecca Ryan and Daniel Mayes, the idea I suppose is that it is somehow more shocking, more unnerving to see an older man and a young girl in this position, and that this in turn makes you reconsider your responses to the earlier half of the production. This is true to an extent but the casting of the second pair, with the charismatic Ryan (of Shameless fame) as confident Beth and Mayes as the more needy Adian, means that it is not a straight gender swap, the whole dynamic of the relationship is altered.
The line for line repetition of dialogue ends up backfiring. Intended to make the audience ponder ideas of sex and power within this relationship from a different perspective, in actual fact the repetition shows up the flaws in the writing. Certain lines that felt fresh on the first run, lose their edge, and even start to sound a little trite. Also some of Ryans dialogue in particular sounds just plain wrong coming from the mouth of a teenage girl. And, in both cases, the reasoning that the teacher character is drawn to their student because they were also involved in a relationship with a much older person as a young teenager, seems a little glib.
Scarborough is an interesting dramatic exercise, the first half in particular, powerful acted and directed, but this new twist, intended to add an extra layer, actually undermines the piece in the end. It makes the audience question and scrutinise what went before, but perhaps not in the way the writer had hoped.