Jamie Eastlake’s production of Bottleneck by Luke Barnes comes to the Old Red Lion Theatre for a short time following a successful run at Theatre N16. With Euro 2016 matches being shown on a big screen in the pub downstairs and the recent verdict of the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, ending the longest jury case in British legal history, this play seems very relevant.
Greg will be fifteen on Saturday and then he’ll be a man, right? He lives with his Dad in ‘the Boot’ estate rather than with his Mum and her posh new husband in their big house because “I belong in the Boot”. Greg is in his bedroom with pictures of his footballing heroes and football shirts hanging on the wall. He tells us about his life; school, girls, his best friend, his Dad, his hopes to play football professionally, scrapes with the police; so far, so standard teenage life. We soon come to realise that Greg’s journey is going to take him to the worst experience of his young life.
Will Mytum is excellent as Greg. He is convincing as the naïve teenage boy, obsessed with football. He’s on stage for an hour, bringing other characters into the story with skilful slight changes of tone and style. It’s a very physical role, Mytum moves around the stage and through the audience with the energy of a young boy with all his life ahead of him. As the action moves from his bedroom in Liverpool to the stadium pens in Sheffield, we see a terror and vulnerability that brings home the very human tragedy of the 96 victims at Hillsborough, 37 of whom were teenagers, and those who survived and have to live with the memories. “I just came here to watch some football”; a phrase likely uttered by many of the crowd at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989.
The static set contains Greg’s teenage bedroom and a grassed football pitch for the two locations of the action in this story. A calendar on the wall tracks the days as Greg crosses them out; the move from day to day is marked by lighting blackouts. Lighting is used well as the action moves from the frantic and energetic action of teenage Greg as his excitement builds in the days leading up to the match to the stillness of the crush in the pen, acted behind a football net pressed into Greg’s face in a chilling representation of the reality of the overcrowded pen. The play works well in the small space, our attention is captured and held by Mytum as he tells Greg’s story.
This is a well written and brilliantly performed play with lots to say that seems especially relevant at the moment. The epilogue doesn’t quite work and seems a little unnecessary as the play has already made its point very strongly but this is definitely worth seeing. The Old Red Lion is a small theatre and Bottleneck is only showing until 25th June so get a ticket soon to have a chance to see this performance.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Andreas Lambis