So Here We Are, dir. Steven Atkinson, The Royal Exchange
Pidge (Sam Melvin), Pugh (Mark Weinman) and Smudge (Dorian Jerome Simpson) are sitting on a container representing a Southend sea wall, trying to remember who wrote Peter Pan. Is it Walt Disney or Barry someone? Or perhaps Walter Barry? This is right after the funeral of their friend, Frankie (Daniel Kendrick) who is the fifth in their five-a-side football team; something that has tied them together since childhood. This is a young-spirited play with a thorough understanding of being twenty-something and not having accomplished one’s childhood dreams. On the way to adulthood, all five have put aside their dreams of becoming famous football players. Life in suburbia placed them on less extraordinary paths. Apart from Dan (Ciaran Owans) they have gone straight into work after college. Their friendship is what is left of their childhood ambitions, and yet there is something missing in that too. As their dreams faded, the boys changed and adapted to the “adults’ world” in their own different ways. “It’s Barry someone what writ Peter Pan,” Smudge suggests. The one who gives the correct answer, however, is Dan . From the corner he stands, away from the others in his shiny and expensive looking suit, and murmurs, “JM Barrie.” He is the only one who has found his way out. Working in international banking, he has escaped his home town wearing a white collar. His physical distance, therefore, is a clear symbol of his distant life. He is the one who left Neverland behind. He is the one who made it. And yet he is the one who remembers the creator of Peter Pan.
The dialogues are well written, fast flowing and witty. From the stage decor to the plot, everything is simple but effective. The play wittily manages to portray life in a small town devoid of opportunities, and displays the lives of five lads, both their past and quite possibly their future. The life in suburbia is captured with simple details. Occasionally we hear the jingle of an ice-cream van, accompanied by the sound of the sea. At the very end of the play, Frankie’s girlfriend Kristy (Jade Anouka) stares at the TV which runs commercials of exotic holidays in the Mediterranean. The premise of the play is to tell us “what can happen when nothing happens” and that is exactly what the play manages to capture in the most realistic way possible.
The small stage of The Studio at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester creates an intimate atmosphere for the audience, instantly creating a connection to the boys. In-between a badly timed game of I-Spy and the discussion of whether or not Frankie’s grandmother is hot, the elephant in the room grows larger and larger. The first half of the play is light-hearted and funny, relying on on dialogue and therefore the actors’ performances. Pidge, who is perhaps the most childish and vulgar of them all, is the biggest source of laughs, and Sam Melvin takes on the character’s fast-paced dialogues with a natural air. The humour is partly crude (“Who farted? Oh Pudge!”), and yet the play manages to avoid caricature or extremity. The banter of the lads slowly turns dark as the second half approaches, where we meet Frankie.
In the second half the container opens and turns into a space of memories where every character recalls the last time they saw Frankie. The light dims; the hazy and dreamy set of lights reminding us that we are in the blurry realm of memories and reflection. The whole second half is a flashback where the characters face up to the parts they played in Frankie’s death. On the small stage of The Studio, you feel the intensity of Frankie’s depression. As he desperately looks for ways to change his life, to have something better, the container almost becomes a box that traps him, that doesn’t let go. Daniel Kendrick, as Frankie, plays out his depression and desperation well. Mark Weinman as Pugh, the most earnest character of all who has grown up having admitted long ago that his football dream was never going to be fulfilled, gives a soothing and balancing performance in both halves. His relative maturity balances Pidge and Smudge’s crudeness in the first half, while in the second half he is perhaps the only one who can give comfort to Frankie. He is ready to accept his life as it is. Something that Frankie fails to do. In the end we are left unsure about what really happened to Frankie. What is clear, however, is his sense of being stuck in two worlds, one represented by Dan who accomplished possibilities outside the place he grew up, and the other represented by Kirsty, Pidge, Smudge and Pugh, all of whom have found their own ways to cope with life without exciting opportunities.
The Bruntwood Prize-winning So Here We Are creates a Neverland out of a Southend where boys never really grow no matter how much they try. It has been written with a well-balanced humour and darkness and the performances on the stage support its natural tone well. As the play closes, one feels Frankie’s words stuck in one’s mind: “I want to start again,” he remarks, “I want to go back to being kids and start again from the very beginning.”
Şima İmşir Parker