EDINBURGH 2010: BROADWAY WORLD REVIEWS: Territory (Pleasance)
2010 marks a return to the Fringe for Territory, winner of the 2009 NSDF Award for Best Emerging Artist. Written and directed by newcomer ReuBen Johnson, it's an astonishingly accomplished play about the territorial nature of boys, particularly in Britain.Ashley, Adam and their friends are spending the night drinking in the locAl Woods when they're joined by Jamie, Adam's older brother. Jamie's 21, successful, about to finish up his degree in Music at Oxford University, but singing and playing piano aren't the sort of thing you do in the Salford town where the group of boys live. Ashley's top dog, playing his friends off against each other, using put downs and the threat of violence to maintain his status. When Jamie points out that Ashley never actually fulfils any of his promises, punches are thrown and the balance of power is upset. As well as writing and directing, Johnson stars as Ashley, and it's an outstanding performance, in turns sweating, shouting and weeping, rich with a violent, nervous energy that's almost tangible. Perhaps the only criticism - and it's a reflection of Johnson's gift as an actor - is that this fearsome energy often overpowers the rest of his cast, as it should, given his character's vying for superior status. But as Ashley storms off towards the tail end of the play and the rest of the boys get to - literally - show off what they can do, there are some stand out performances. Craig Morris's Leon is amongst them, sticking up for his friend but lamenting his status as middleman in a biting rap. Yusuf Khamisa's David is a fascinating character, switching his allegiances to whoever he deems to be top dog at the time, which becomes particularly interesting as the play reaches its devastating climax. Played out on a sparse set - a tiny two man tent that's used to comic effect when David's girlfriend Gemma arrives - Johnson's script is as funny, his cast of characters as endearing, as the play is brutal and violent. The vibrant energy of the play is complimented by music and lighting, particularly in sections where the boys play out montages - play fighting and crushing cans on each others' heads - to booming, bass-heavy grime tracks. In previous reviews the play has been tagged as educational, as a play about gangs and knife crime, but to limit Johnson's work to merely pleading with school children not to stab each other is to do it a disservice. Whilst the subject matter may prove a little rough around the edges for some audience members, this is theatre as it should be: first-rate, vibrant and vital.