Re­view: Tusk Tusk

Bath Chronicle - - NEWS - By Cather­ine Bru­ton

Tusk Tusk The Mis­sion The­atre Septem­ber 28&29

A sin­gle room. Three young ac­tors. A birth­day party. A dead rat. A dark se­cret. Tusk Tusk, a con­tem­po­rary play by Polly Sten­ham, per­formed at The Mis­sion The­atre by Bath Act­ing and The­atre Stu­dio (BATS) was hi­lar­i­ous and heart-break­ing in turns, a mod­ern ‘com­edy of men­ace’ – Pin­ter meets Tracy Beaker via the dark world of Fairy Tales with tour-de force per­for­mances by young prin­ci­pals who gripped the au­di­ence un­til the fi­nal dev­as­tat­ing con­clu­sion. It opens with a scene of typ­i­cal sib­ling bick­er­ing - ‘You’re a girl … your flies are un­done … you look like Mar­garet Thatcher!’ - quick fire ex­changes of in­sults, ver­bal war­fare on a teenage scale. But right from the out­set there is an un­set­tling sense that all is not as it seems. Th­ese kids are too self-suf­fi­cient, too good at ‘par­ent­ing’ their lit­tle brother, too anx­ious about the phone that never rings. The ex­changes are funny – some­times achingly so - but there’s a brit­tle re­silience to Lol­lie Mcken­zie’s Mag­gie, which frac­tures oc­ca­sion­ally to ex­pose fault lines of deepseated vul­ner­a­bil­ity. And her el­der brother, Ol­lie Cochran’s vo­latile Eliot, uses hu­mour, word play and a thinly veiled un­der­cur­rent of vi­o­lence to de­flect from his aban­don­ment is­sues. Ab­sent par­ents are a time­less and timely theme, and there are faint but dis­tinct echoes of the plots of chil­dren’s books run­ning through this play. This is mid­dle class ne­glect, they both long for and loathe their manic de­pres­sive al­co­holic mother, whose per­fume lulls them to sleep and fends off the night­mares that cir­cle in her ab­sence. Grad­u­ally the out­side world en­croaches - first there’s the girl­friend, Cassie, played with mov­ing still­ness, sub­tlety and in­sight by Ebony Ham­mond, who is briefly let in to bear wit­ness to the spi­ralling mad­ness. She sees the el­der sib­lings cradling the youngest as blood pours from his head and hears them con­clude with dev­as­tat­ing logic that there is no one they can turn to for help. Then in the fi­nal scene ‘help’ ap­pears in the du­bi­ous form of fam­ily friends, Katie and Roland (Katie Gold­smith and Steve Hug­gins) with their pol­ished ve­neer of re­spectabil­ity and comic ba­nal­ity. But hopes of ‘happy ever af­ter’ are swiftly punc­tured by the rev­e­la­tions that come thick and fast, dev­as­tat­ing the mar­riage, frag­ment­ing the fam­ily, leav­ing them with an im­pos­si­ble choice to make. This play is heart-break­ing to watch but there are mo­ments of laugh-out-loud hu­mour, even in the dark­est mo­ments. But it is the per­for­mances of the young ac­tors that make this play truly mem­o­rable. Danny Mcken­zie is supremely mov­ing as Finn, the lit­tle brother who ev­ery­one is des­per­ately seek­ing to pro­tect. And the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two cen­tral char­ac­ters is ut­terly mes­meris­ing. The blurred lines of brother-sis­ter-mother-son-frien­den­emy are played on with dis­con­cert­ing in­ten­sity, as the play slowly un­peels the lay­ers of back story redo­lent of aban­don­ment, ad­dic­tion, long­ing and loss. Four­teenyear-old Lol­lie Mcken­zie, who starred as Matilda in the West End, comes of age in this pro­duc­tion, prov­ing her­self an ac­tress of stun­ning ma­tu­rity, par­tic­u­larly as she de­liv­ers her dev­as­tat­ing fi­nal mono­logue. And Ol­lie Cochran – also just 14 - brings breath-tak­ing ver­sa­til­ity and a mer­cu­rial in­ten­sity to his por­trayal of the vo­latile Eliot, who is vile and abu­sive at times but some­how im­pos­si­ble to hate. To­gether, their per­for­mances pack an emo­tional punch that leave the au­di­ence breath­less – no, bruised. The play was the cul­mi­na­tion of a week­long fes­ti­val of work by Bath Act­ing and The­atre Stu­dio at The Mis­sion, which in­cluded a show­case fea­tur­ing no fewer than 28 young ac­tors aged 10 to 16. Tusk Tusk was di­rected with sub­tlety and in­sight by mother and daugh­ter team Mel and Lara Law­man who man­aged to elicit truly ex­quis­ite per­for­mances from such a young cast. The re­sult was hard to watch at times, but dev­as­tat­ingly mem­o­rable - th­ese young stars are truly ones to watch!

Roland (Steve Hug­gins), Eliot (Ol­lie Cochran), Katie (Katie Gold­smith) and Mag­gie (Lol­lie Mcken­zie) in Tusk Tusk

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