Wednesday, 9 September 2009


4/9/09, Cockpit Theatre

Written by Penelope
In the week that two young brothers from Doncaster admitted to the gruesome and vicious beating of two other little boys, it somehow seemed fitting (if depressing) to see this play.

Country Music was written by Simon Stephens in 2004, after he'd spent eight months as a writer in residence at Wandsworth and Grendon prisons. It's performed by graduates from Rose Bruford College and directed by David Zoob.

It's a story in four acts, spanning 21 years in which we see the hopeless life and fate of Jamie Carris (played by George Banks). Here's a boy who doesn't take his chances and makes all the wrong choices, though he has bad luck too. The first scene has him as a teenager, in a stolen car, with his girlfriend Lynsey shortly after Jamie has stabbed another boy. He's cocky, funny, charming, scared, chilling and brutal in quick succession. She's all nervous laughter, bravado and then fear. The audience laughs along, while also wincing and shuffling uncomfortably. Middle-class theatre goers pay to see these scenes, but we're inwardly relieved Jamie doesn't play a part in our lives.

Jamie inevitably ends up in prison and in the second act we witness the poignant visit of his younger brother Mattie. Jamie has a terrible affect on everyone. He's all nerves. George Banks plays him with a series of nervous tics, he can't keep still, whether its shaking his legs, rolling cigarettes, folding sweet wrappers: he's perpetual motion. His family and friends are terrified into their loyalty.

Later, we see him released from prison where he meets his now 17 year old daughter, Emma. They have nothing in common and nothing much to say to each other and Jamie doesn't know how to tell her how much he's missed her. She's curious to meet him, but doesn't know what to say and is so uncomfortable, she keeps her coat on.

The final scene takes us back to the day before Jamie stole the car and stabbed the other boy. This is the day he makes his first big mistake. By now, we know what he's done, and we watch, uncomfortably as we see the beginning of the story.

All four performances are excellent and really spellbinding. George Banks as Jamie is the central focus. He "ages" 21 years, and has to be defiant, stroppy, nasty, violent and pitiful. And he does all this, while still making you feel sorry for him. That's quite remarkable. Each act is interspersed with a country music song (hence the title), to enhance the action. Lauryn Redding has a lovely, sweet voice and the music is well chosen. But I didn't think it was entirely necessary to the narrative. Mattie is played by Mark Conway, Lynsey by Hannah Pierce and Emma by"Emma-Louise Maw

It's not often you see a play in London which is so relevant to the current debate about 'problem kids". I hope this play gets a longer run in another theatre. I emerged into the night thinking that while Jamie's future was bleak, the future of our theatre looks pretty rosy.

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