Before the play begins, we are serenaded by a backing audio of Jeremy Kyle’s YouTube channel excerpts that are confrontational, amusing, but also rather tragic too – it later becomes clear that this audio is purposefully setting the tone for the play.
‘Sid’, written by acclaimed playwright Leon Fleming, is based on the infamous punk legend Sid Vicious, who is remembered not only for his stint as bass guitarist in the Sex Pistols but more so for his wildly controversial lifestyle and sudden death at just 21 years of age.
Dario Coates crashes on to the stage in a whirlwind of energy and shouting as our protagonist Craig, proceeding to turn on some classic Pistols punk to full volume and headbang with extreme vigour. He suddenly stops, looks up, and acknowledges his audience, wide-eyed and visibly glad that we’ve joined him in his bedroom, of which the set accurately depicts.
Craig is infatuated with the entire legacy of Sid, and seeks to honour his memory by worshipping the true era of punk and emulating its authenticity in all that he does and says. He tells the audience about his girlfriend Nancy, who is a direct reference to Vicious’s real-life girlfriend, whose murder he was accused of shortly before his own death. A relationship punctuated by drug abuse, domestic violence and mental illness, Fleming uses this relationship as inspiration for Craig’s narrative about his own relationship with his Nancy, and draws on the various destructive sides of Vicious’ personality to engineer the instabilities in Craig’s.
Dario Coates commands the stage, retaining the attention of the audience in a monopolising choke-hold from beginning to end. Coates’ acting is on par with some of the finest in London theatre you’ll find at the moment; he displays a dizzying array of technical skill and makes fronting a one-act play feel as natural as switching on a light. The pressure of holding a stage single-handedly for 50 minutes might intimidate even the most experienced of actors, but Coates flourishes.
I liked how incredibly interactive the play felt; Coates locked eye-contact with members of the audience throughout, challenging us with questions, squaring up, treating us as his allies one minute and adversaries the next. These aspects were imperative to truly demonstrating the unhinged state of Craig’s mind, with schizophrenic-esque outbursts, explosions of physical violence and wildly varied emotional anecdotes. Craig is a superbly complex character who has been carefully layered to reflect a number of startling, yet curiously rather relatable, flaws, opinions and observations that relate to modern society. Indeed, as fiercely harrowing as certain parts were, it was also unfalteringly funny, and it was a mixture of these sensitive insights into Craig’s multi-faceted and tortured soul that made this character so bewitching.
This was a performance that exuded signs of extensive research, rehearsal time and passion from all involved in the process. With its haunting references to the spirit of Sid Vicious being alive in Craig today: “Sid is here with us, in me…” and the gradual blurring of reality between Craig’s actual life and the one he’s trying to emulate, ‘Sid’ explores the complexity of identity and the darker side to hero-worship.
My one quibble is small: the layout of the seating, which unfortunately meant my view of Coates’ performance was half eclipsed by heads directly in front, as the seats were not raised or staggered. I was only three rows back and still found myself craning my neck to see our actor whenever his character dropped in height. This may be an unavoidable obstacle in the performance space at the Arts, but I do wish the view had been more consistent across all of the seating space.
A staggeringly experienced and multi-talented creative team led by Director Scott Le Crass, ‘Sid’ is an explosively uninhibited illustration of the dark, obsessive psychological state one could find oneself sinking into. A thrilling script executed with absolute gusto behind every vocal and movement; this show needs to become a permanent fixture in the West End.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Roy Tan
SID plays at the Arts Theatre at 10pm until 8 October 2016