There’s always something a bit weird about watching a play set in your home town, including an emotional response somewhere between pride and embarrassment when you hear the characters speak about the places that exist in real life. You have to stop yourself from shouting out “It would take longer than ten minutes to walk from the Vic to Stepney rise” because if you did succumb to your urges, you’d be thrown out.
Given I’m reviewing Goth Weekend at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, I should say that I’m not a goth. I had a brief dalliance with goth between the ages of 16 and 19 but I guess I was just dressing up and not goth in my heart as it didn’t last. I have friends who are goth through and through, and I’ve never felt anything but accepted by them. I think that’s the point of it all, to be alternative is to be in a tribe and it’s a tribe that accepts weird, accepts freak and takes pride in difference. But is it possible to capture that in a short play? Goth Weekend has a bloody good go at it.
Goth Weekend is a warm play, a play with a good big heart. I came away feeling the sort of satisfaction that follows a nice meal; not over-indulged, just enjoyable. It’s not a play that leaves tattered edges, everything is tied up rather nicely and neatly at the end and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. It might not be the sort of emotional rollercoaster that leaves you on the edge of your seat, but there’s something to be said for entertainment – the sort of play where you aren’t traumatised or anxious.
There’s something to be said for just enjoying watching a good cast doing their thing. And this is a good cast. Jessica Johnson as Belinda is a joy to watch. She is completely involved in her character, every movement, every sinewy stretch and goth-rock guitar swing, and she has a lovely singing voice too. I had thought that the brash Newcastle act was going to get on my nerves, but actually it’s endearing. She is utterly genuine in the role. There’s a delicateness to her hard-as-nails act and she pulls it together with real style and skill.
Sean McKenzie is excellent as the lovable widow, he gets the laughs and deservedly so, his slapstick is beautifully timed and carefully placed. But he also plays innocence well, and optimism. Those are difficult emotions to portray on stage, but he manages it. Amy Trigg’s character, Anna, feels a bit forced sometimes; a little too loud, a little too obvious. But she comes into her own in the second half. Amy manages to scratch off the Anna veneer to get to the vulnerability of her character. The phone messages are heart breaking and I admit to shedding a tear in the final scene. There are a lot of big themes sitting on her shoulders and she probably carries the emotional burden of the play. She does so beautifully.
However, there are parts where I felt that the laughs took precedence over the story; it was amusing rather than laugh out loud funny. But I was involved in it, even with a numb bum from the McCarthy theatre seats. Gurjeet Singh’s character, Simon/Bram, is the one that I had the most difficulty with. I couldn’t quite understand his intentions, there were two threads working at the same time – the reuniting of his parents and the acceptance and development of his own personality, intrinsically linked to his sexuality. All this made it difficult to understand his motives, though Gurjeet was a pleasure to watch on stage – fluid and precisely placed in every scene. I did wonder if this style of acting (almost dancing into scenes and making each interaction something big) was too much for this small play. Again, I think he came into his own in the second half, both character and actor. But his storyline was complex and not easily solved, and perhaps this was a rushed to a conclusion.
The writer Ali Taylor should be proud of himself, he’s taken some complex themes and made a good play out of them, and it is lovely to see Scarborough on the stage.
Goth Weekend is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until October 7, 2017. For more information, click here.