Bottleneck

The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; Wednesday 6th March, 2019

 

2019 is a big, big year for football anniversaries in the North West. Manchester’s true believers, the proper, hardcore red and blue football fanatics should already have the relevant alarms set on their mobile phones:

  • 21:30 on 26th May – exactly twenty years since Solskjaer flicked his right leg out.
  • 17:00 on 30th May – also twenty years, since Dickov gave birth to a new blue moon.

But before either of these events are commemorated there’s an altogether different anniversary to deal with, one that will transcend rivalries: whether they be of a red / blue variety or even of a much more hostile Liverpudlian / Mancunian form – 15:00 on 15th April will mark the thirtieth anniversary of Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster.

Bottleneck by Luke Barnes presents the story of Greg (Daniel Cassidy) – a cheeky fifteen-year-old scouse lad who talks excitedly about celebrating his “birthday on Saturday”. Alarm bells ring immediately: without actually mentioning it the menacing spectre of Hillsborough is raised early in this performance; in fact the mood is set before the performance even begins, thanks to the playing of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry as the audience take their seats.

Throughout the opening scenes Greg comes across as a genuinely decent laugh. He’s obviously a true believer, a genuine football nut, a full-kit wanker no less (though at fifteen he’s just about young enough to get away with it).

He prances around excitedly wearing his red, Candy-sloganed football shirt in front of his bedroom wall plastered with action-shot cuttings of Barnes, Dalglish, and even a Panini headshot of Jim Beglin.

Most of his chat is about football, but he’s also got plenty of side banter going on, like the time Sarah-Jane told him his dick tasted of marmite so he told her that her muff tasted like quavers. And then there’s his extraordinary theory that people’s nans suck off Neville Southall, which feels like one of those astonishing things that could be true.

Not everything is proper boss though: Greg’s Dad seems to be a bit of a dick, he’s some sort of union man, though a union man with an excellent moustache – in Liverpool, 1989, all the proper hard bastards had to have a moustache.

Bottleneck starts as a genuinely funny comedy, a really well-written one that seems to amusingly capture the foul-mouthed wit of teenaged bravado. Greg’s accounts of his various dust-ups with the likes of the police and Sarah-Jane’s paedo boyfriend are both silly yet believable in the context of an adventure-seeking, hyperactive young man learning to make his way in life.

But though the comedy comes thick and fast, all the while the plot is rolling towards Greg’s birthday trip to go and watch the match on Saturday. The result is an extraordinary theatrical experience, a thick layering of pantomime slapstick riding upon a horror story lurking underneath. The horror does eventually come, and it makes for a jarring and deeply unpleasant experience – though that’s not a criticism, as such, more a reflection of the extreme contrast between the moods being presented.

As the thirtieth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster looms on the horizon, Bottleneck provides a wildly comedic yet deeply unsettling account of what still remains as the darkest day for Britain’s national sport. This may be a work of fiction but it still pushes all the right buttons, Bottleneck tells of a world that is now literally a lifetime away and of circumstances that seem incomprehensible in this day and age.

 

 

http://www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/bottleneck/

Photography: Andrew AB Photography

 

Summary

Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure A fairly basic set with just a back wall covered in football posters / stickers. Triggered so much nostalgia though and seemed to somehow capture Liverpool F.C.’s all-pervasive dominance of football and youth culture in the late 1980s. 3
Auditory pleasure The mood was set before the show even began with the playing of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry. Good use of sound effects to break the monologue at various points in the show, helped to break the monotony of a solo performance. 3
Architecture & Theme Brilliant piece of writing to layer genuine comedy onto such a tragic story. The unpleasant discomfort was ever present, even during the moments of comedy there was a creeping sense of dread that this isn’t going to end well. 4
Artistic delivery Outstanding performance from Daniel Cassidy – the character of Greg comes across as so believable: a young lad full of bravado who, even after tragedy, seems determined to prove that he can just get on with it. 5
Overall impact A difficult subject matter to attempt to tackle but the overall, final impression is that this is a well written and very well performed show that triggers powerful emotions, both good and bad. 4
Final Score: 3.8

 

Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.

 

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