Bottleneck

Fri 4th – Fri 18th August 2017

reviews

Neil Suchak

at 10:21 on 12th Aug 2017

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Written by Luke Barnes, ‘Bottleneck’ is the story of one boy’s love of Liverpool FC and his drive to see them play that means that he stops at nothing to retrieve his confiscated tickets from his father. Therefore, when walking in to see 'Bottleneck', it is easy to think that this play is a coming-of-age tale imbued with a certain boyish charm. The first half of the performance does indeed live up to these expectations as it depicts the the tale of 13-year-old Greg (played by Dominic Thompson) who is desperately attempting to navigate the everyday pressures of school and growing up.

This being said the first half of the play is largely a disappointment with Thompson indulging in childish over-acting that initially seems to debase the intricacies of the script: making the character of Greg seem one-dimensional. The first half has little direction of which to speak, with the audience having little idea what is being set up - it seems only to be the narrative of Greg’s overly-zealous and brattish behaviour. Thompson’s depiction of Greg has a sense of gullible and innocent naivety that makes him seem slightly too much of a caricature. He ends up being unconvincing and exhausting to watch. That Thompson seems only to have one setting in terms of energy and volume in this portion of the play makes Greg seem very much younger than the 13-year-old that he is meant to be. It is perhaps this case of over acing and the seeming lack of direction that means that the first half is far from gripping. This is not to say that it does not have redeeming features. Thompson seems to have a good grip of the boyish humour that gives his character a charm; one that does swerve too much into brattish naivety.

The other half of the play, however, is a completely different story; the script gathers a swift pace that really works in its favour as the narrative takes a sudden, tragic turn that makes the stomach sink to the floor as we realise what is about to happen. This dramatic shift was not at all what many of the audience were expecting, however, it does seem obvious when the dramatic reality dawns on them. During this harrowing turn of events, Thompson really comes into his own, using the limited space to great effect. His ability to add depth and nuance to a character is proved by the atmosphere of mounting tension he creates.

If one is willing to endure the grating first half of this performance, then they will be delighted to see it to its poignant and erudite conclusion - as ‘Bottleneck’ does eventually succeed creating a sense of gritty drama.

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Katherine Knight

at 18:10 on 12th Aug 2017

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This is a play of two halves. Luke Barnes’ play is an expert in the act of misdirection, and this makes it a difficult piece to watch, flashing from exuberance and energy to terror. Such a piece takes a while to gather momentum, but once it strikes, there is only one word: compelling.

On all accounts, Bottleneck is set up as a coming-of-age tale – and for the first half of the performance, this plays as expected. Greg, played by Dominic Thompson, is an exuberant twelve-cum-thirteen-year-old with a dirty mouth who, as the lights come up, indignantly states that his dick does not taste of marmite. He reveres and hates his dad by turns, considers a moustache the epitome of cool, and considers being a public nuisance the perfect pastime. There’s indubitable energy as he runs across the stage, jumping on his bed, mimicking sexual acts, and professing his love for Liverpool football club.

However, although Thompson’s performance is winning, the first half lacks direction. A childhood scene is painted, and very successfully, but there are several odd events and relationships which are never really explained. There is a rather uncomfortable scene in a toilet, and complex relationships in the place Greg calls his home which never really metamorphosise into anything new. Setting the scene, perhaps, although it continues on for far too long, and rumours of neighbourhood child molesters fade into the background in what happens next.

Then the tragedy hits. Perhaps this demonstrates the difference in generations – or I am just a particularly ignorant viewer – but I went into this performance blind. If the event in question is still unknown to you, I urge you not to seek it out, because the moment that everything clicks into place is one of the most emotive I have had the pleasure to experience in theatre, purely due to the fact I had not seen it coming. At the moment of realisation – triggered by a simple metal set-piece, used to progressively terrible effect – everything falls into place, and you are at once horrified and unable to look away.

For those who are aware of the event in question, all of the signs are there – tragic and obvious in hindsight – and the effect is no less heart-wrenching as everything falls into place. But you don’t need to be an expert in order to appreciate the sheer pathos of the tragedy in question, the momentum which is carried through the second half. The audience is struck by the sheer physical intensity of the scene, re-enacted with incredible physicality, which operates around a single set piece standing centre stage: first standing straight, then enclosing, and gradually pulled smaller, until its unbearably claustrophobic end. It is this moment which remains in the memory, and this moment which nearly brought me to tears: and, I think, a fitting – and, importantly, not distasteful – climax for a tragedy which still remains very much in the public consciousness.

This is a play which will have very different meanings for different people. It is at once a tribute – there is at its close a fitting memorial to the disaster, projected onto a now-dark stage – and a family tragedy, a loss on personal grounds as well as public. But some emotions are universal, and as the lights go out on a final magnificent tableau, there is no one who could deny how compelling this piece is.

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