Port, Lyttelton Theatre, London
Playwright Simon Stephens’ Port is arguably one of his most personal, not least because it is based where he, and the play’s director, Marianne Elliott, grew up. It was also written while his father was battling cancer, and themes of loss pervade the text.
First performed at
the Royal Exchange in Manchester in 2002, and designed for a theatre in the
round, Port, is adapted beautifully to fit in the Lyttleton, with
realistic sets; from an old blue Ford with windows smashed in, to a
greyish- green-tiled cafe in an NHS hospital, they anchor you - like Stephens'
script - to the place. They could almost be film sets, apart from the dated
sepia shades - like an old photo. This is Stockport, the place that “every
c**t’s trying to get out” - but there’s an affection for it, too.
The story follows bright and bolshy Racheal Keats, played by Kate O’Flynn, through pivotal scenes in her life, each punctuated by tunes from Manchester’s thriving 90s music scene. Her first memory is of a dead sparrow, and this morbid fixation with death grows with time. Her mum abandons her and her brother Billy (played by Mike Noble, who is too cartoonish as a child, but as a teenager, makes a surprisingly sympathetic petty thief) and becomes one of a number of “ghosts” that haunt her nightmares. As Racheal grows up, she repeats some of her mother’s mistakes (Jack Deam plays both her drunk dad and abusive husband, making an overt parallel) in an unconscious attempt to understand her abandonment, while trying to maintain a chipper disposition throughout.
Sometimes lyrical, Stephens’ language never loses its dark realism, as the audience is constantly reminded of the contrast with their comparatively salubrious lives. The smell of cigarettes and perfume sit damply in the background, while Kevin, Racheal’s husband sips a “tinny” and mocks country pubs and with it the audience’s lives; “full of bald blokes drinking real ales,” and they don’t serve proper drinks like Jack Daniels, he complains.
O’Flynn ends each scene gazing hopefully up to the light source, whether it’s a dim backroom halogen, or a warming sunrise. Skipping from foot to foot as a cheeky youngster and again as a nervous teenager, “it was alright” is her upbeat catchphrase, even when things are clearly not alright. Her transition from plucky mouth-breathing schoolgirl with a pouty overbite to a responsible adult is fluid less convincing; Stephens’ lines giving her and other characters idiosyncratic wit and depth.
Even Racheal’s teenage lover, whose main interests include sex and crime, turns mundane Stockport life into an impromptu rap by a dirty bus stop: “go out... go on buses, go cinema, get up to all sorts.” You’re left feeling that you know the place, and love the characters, even if you’ve never even been north of the M25.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 PlayStation and Xbox hacked by Lizard Squad
- 2 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public can visit police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
EastEnders Christmas special, review: Brilliant Danny Dyer glues you to your seat
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Doctor Who series 8: Jenna Coleman staying on as Clara Oswald despite leaving rumours
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader