BWW Reviews: THE WORDS I SHOULD HAVE SAID TO PHOEBE LEWIS, Phoenix Artist Club, July 30 2014
It's all going wrong for Frank. He's got his best mate's packet of "Mandy" in his pocket and the dealer, whose patch they're occupying, on the line with a phone in one hand and a gun in the other. Frank's got his dad in hospital, but he doesn't talk to him anyway, because he walked out on Frank's mum, who died just when Frank was trying to get it together to go to college. Worse even than that, the more his girlfriend Chelsea professes her love for him, the more he is bewitched by student dancer Phoebe - but she's off to hoof it on a cruise liner for 18 months. And he lives in Sidcup.
End of the Line Theatre's "The Words I Should Have Said to Phoebe Lewis" (at the Phoenix Artist Club until 2 August) is a vibrant slice of contemporary London life, raw, real and rambunctious. It's good - really good - and I know that because for ten minutes I was distracted by the noise from the pub outside, which then disappeared until I became aware of it again at the curtain call. On a hot night in a cramped venue, that transporting to another world is a testament to the quality of Jim English's writing.
James Craze is all wide-eyed sweetness as Frank, the everyman who doesn't know what he wants from life - how can you at 20? - but keeps trying, and failing, to do the right thing. His best mate Bailey is more sure of where his life should be heading (a kind of scaled-back Premier League footballer's lifestyle), but Alex Jordan gives him just enough vulnerability and cowardice to suggest that he's never going to get there, no matter how many bundles of tenners his dealing brings. That impending failure is partly the result of Adam Patrick Boakes' heavy, Zaki, who looks terrifying, but isn't much more than a big kid like the rest of them.
Sara Huxley is very funny as Frank's spray-tan and Wonderbra girlfriend Chelsea, but she can also do hurt and fear too - Huxley has plenty of star quality, so much so that some blokes will be wondering quite what possesses Frank to seek out Phoebe when he has Chelsea at home in a onesie. Chloe Levis' femme fatale Phoebe may not be quite so obvious a temptress, but (and you can take this from me) there are plenty of blokes for whom the Yorkshire accent is pretty much irresistible. Leila Ayad is sensible and grown-up as Frank's sister, her responsibilities as a single mother showing the kids that adult life isn't all Nando's and The One Show.
This show is charming, funny and plotted with real pace, presented all-through in 80 minutes, David Zoob's direction getting the actors on and off the tiny stage with comedy's greatest asset - economy. At a time when you hear a lot of American accents (though not many convincing) on the London stage and as many productions reviving proven winners or looking back through rose-tinted spectacles to a past that may or may not have existed, it's wonderful to see a show that is so contemporary, so rooted in life's problems and life's possibilities. The Inbetweeners have shown the potential of bittersweet comedy set in the 21st century at that moment when you're not a kid any more, but not quite grown-up either, so it's good to see something of that vibe on the stage.
Keep an eye on End Of The Line Theatre - if they're doing this one year out of college, they'll be something very special in a couple of years' time.