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Review: SILK ROAD (HOW TO BUY DRUGS ONLINE), Trafalgar Studios

Review: SILK ROAD (HOW TO BUY DRUGS ONLINE), Trafalgar Studios

Review: SILK ROAD (HOW TO BUY DRUGS ONLINE), Trafalgar Studios As the first play to be funded by Bitcoin, the origins of Alex Oates' play Silk Road are as intriguing as the contents. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Silk Road was the (now defunct) eBay of the dark web, where you could order any narcotic and have it delivered directly to your own door by an unsuspecting postman.

Following an appeal on the forums of the real Silk Road for contributions towards the original production, an anonymous donor donated two Bitcoin that Oates reinvested to bring this captivating play to the Edinburgh Fringe and the Vault Festival in 2014. Now playing at the Trafalgar Studios, the play is as intense and absorbing as ever.

Oates focuses his one-man play around Geordie teenager Bruce. Bruce is nineteen, unemployed and lives with his Nan. After discovering how easy it is to buy drugs online, he manages to build a small narcotics empire through the Silk Road from his bedroom, with more than a little help from his unsuspecting Nan.

Josh Barrow is an energetic and believable Bruce, with teenage awkwardness and apologetic poise, he is captivating to watch. The fast pace of the play is helped by Barrow's energy, but also Dominic Shaw's slick direction that makes clever use of the play's range of characters.

Barrow's physical ability to jump from one character to the next is sharp and defined; particularly his hugely comic version of his elderly Nan with her hunched shoulders and wrinkled-up nose. His portrayal of manic club owner Mr Shaggy, with his expansive gestures, booming voice and penchant for Michael Jackson, along with musical theatre-loving bouncer Mason verge towards caricature, but are highly amusing at the same time.

There is a huge clash of cultures where drugs obtained by very modern means have to be smuggled in knitted tea cosies and books hollowed out to contain them. Bruce is an unlikely criminal mastermind in his tracksuit bottoms and unfashionable haircut, but he is a likeable antihero.

Oates has created a young man who is out of his depth in every way - from his naivety in his short-lived relationship with his girlfriend to the PayPal account he uses for his drug dealing being linked to his Nan's bank account. The hour-long production zips by, but feels a little too neatly sewn up at the end.

The highlight of the show is the poignancy and tenderness of Bruce's relationship with his Nan, which is the fundamental heart of the show. Barrow is at his most still when talking about his Nan and this produces the most moving moments of the production.

With a sparse set of a chair and piles of books, Rachel Sampley's lighting has to work hard to define different spaces and times. It smartly snaps and switches from eye-blinking brightness to a strobing club scene with disorientating speed. The use of dry ice is also bit too prolific for the small space.

This is a smartly written play, performed by a talented and adaptable young actor. It is a theatrical hour very well spent.

Silk Road is at the Trafalgar Studios until 1 September

Photo Credit: Nick Rutter

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