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BWW Review: SHOOK, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: SHOOK, Southwark Playhouse BWW Review: SHOOK, Southwark Playhouse

Every year, thousands of playwrights respond to Papatango Theatre Company's call for their New Writing Prize. 2019 saw 1406 entries from across the UK and Republic of Ireland, from which only one was going to be chosen for a full production and a further commission from the company. The winner of this year's highly regarded and fairly ruthless competition is Samuel Bailey with his play Shook, which examines how three teenagers cope in a young offender institution after being shut away by the community.

Cain (Josh Finan), Riyad (Ivan Oyik), and Jonjo (Josef Davies) have two things in common: they've all been sentenced and they're all relatively willing to learn how to meet fatherhood once they're released. Grace (Andrea Hall) is there to go through everything with them while the boys kill time. Little by little Bailey spins a tale infused with dark humour that conceals an alarming and uncompromising heart. Papatango co-founder and Artistic Director George Turvey directs the snappy show, with the final product coming off as an accomplished, entertaining, and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

The action actually takes a moment to kick in fully, but once it goes past the initial minimal slump, the dialogues flourish in all their idiosyncratic beauty. The performers bring out the best in the writing, with Finan delivering a precise and layered performance with his portrayal of a young boy who's been conditioned by a cruel society to abandon all hope for the future. Energetic and probably struggling with attention issues, Cairn hides his despair and disillusion underneath a coat of sarcasm and - when circumstances change and his character's emotional sphere is stripped bare - the actor unsheathes punctuated and blunt honesty.

Different speech patters and accents interconnect with the trio's personalities and make them distinct individuals with unique sets of baggage. Oyik's juggles Riyad's sides in a slender act, bottling up his passion and releasing it with care and definiteness, introducing a character whose willingness to turn from street smart to book smart pioneers his narrative. His and Cairn's chattiness and ownership of the situation are in direct opposition of Jonjo's, who's presented as sullen but sweet by Davies.

Turvey manipulates the pace according to the characters' internal turmoil, going from the frantic and distraught exchanges that concern Cairn to Riyad and Jonjo's slower and pensive approaches. The writer builds a microcosmos that's propped up with toxic masculinity and an all-enveloping fear of being perceived as weak both by the inmates and the "outside world". The hand dealt to them will never be equal to their peers', whether because of class divide or situational happenstances. Their prospects are something that they either can't or don't want to think about and discuss too much due to the arresting dread they feel inside.

The harmful imprint they display in their late teens is the forthright result of a system that alienates and disaffects its younger members from specific backgrounds. Bailey makes this clear once the banter and gags have run their course and his boys are left to deal with outer forces that impact their conduct. Shook leaves it to the audience to reckon with the origin of its characters' wisdom, letting them connect the dots between their estrangement and how society has failed them.

Shook runs at Southwark Playhouse until 23 November.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

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