Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Theatre Review : Back Down

back downChris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Back Down’, which is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 7th March and then tours the Midlands and beyond.

When he was 17, Steven Camden made a trip from Smethwick to Snowdonia with two mates…and he clearly remembers it well; well enough to write a most engaging 90-minute play about three teenage lads on a final fling before Further Education divides them. It’s a last – and hopefully lasting – bonding exercise, which involves camping … and climbing Snowdon. But, lads being lads, they fail to book a campsite and forget to bring a map of the mountain. Physically, the weekend is a bit of a comedy of errors – but the friendships become all the deeper and true manly love shines through.

Rather like a low budget road movie, the storyline is casual and incidental. The plot is no great shakes. There is little to challenge the intellect. The idea of hiding your lovelorn mate’s mobile so he can focus on the ‘here and now’ rather than the charms of his girl back in Brum has a familiar ring to it – and I too have climbed up to a summit only to discover – with a sinking feeling – that it’s not actually the top. So I was a little underwhelmed. I suspect the fact that Mr Camden also operates as the award-winning performance poet Polarbear led me to expect rather more.

Instead, the strength of the show is in the characters and their interaction. The ‘love’ is beautifully written and the naivety of the lads’ adventure in new lands is nicely captured. “I’ve never been camping before but how hard can it be”. Getting there was “like driving through a painting”.

The humour is surprisingly Home Service – though it is riddled with non-BBC expletives. “We’re not going to Wales, stupid; we’re going to Snowdonia”. The biggest laugh of the night comes when the lads spot the Snowdon Mountain Railway and relate it to their own Snow Hill. And I loved the throw away line about having “built the tent”.

The teenage rows are great. Being lost and wet so far from home is a recipe for squabbles…so it turns out to be ‘survival training’ on more than one front.

Director Tessa Walker has assembled a very strong trio of performers …who are playing handball ‘keepie-uppie’ as we walk in, and apparently acting in the clothes they’ve turned up in. Waleed Akhtar leads the line with a wonderfully comic portrayal of Zia, a maturing Muslin who refuses to abandon his creed; even in Wales. He’s blessed with Muppet ears, a great grin and deep sensitivity. I’ll wager he’ll rarely be out of work.

Between the three of them, they build a fourth brooding character, Raif; a self styled SAS veteran with a very odd air to him. The lads get euphoric on loopy tea in his company and the danger is palpable to everyone apart from the lads themselves. It’s a very neat piece of third party characterisation.

What let the evening down was the lack of consideration for the acoustics. They are never easy in Birmingham’s little brick box space – ‘The Door’. The sheer bounce and energy of the cast sent the quick fire dialogue rattling round the walls, rendering sections of dialogue incomprehensible and masking punch lines.
Realistically, there is no way the actors can slow down without losing their vitality. So it may be an idea to see the show on its tour…which is extensive enough to bring them to rural Shropshire’s Wem Town Hall on April 17th. I hope they pack their tent.

Photo credit: Graeme Braidwood

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