Review: Tusk Tusk
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