Review: Jade City, The Bunker, Sep’ 2019.
Jade city – The Bunker, Sep’ 19’
Script – Alice Malseed
Direction – Katherine Nesbitt
Direct from Belfast, Alice Malseed’s play about two young men living, drinking and dreaming on the breadline fulfils expectations of a social realist drama. Barry Calvert and Brendan Quinn as Sas and Monty, spit the rhythm and slang of the great city, as punctuated by captioning. Their landscape is, in fact, one of working-class, urban life up and down the UK. We’re transported to the chippy, the working-men’s, the snooker-table, the dual-carriageway, the housing estates to escape and aspire to and the take-away – Jade City.
Unlike the social-realist stories of Mike Leigh, the majority of Jade City unravels through memory and storytelling. It is an agile two-hander framed by a boxing-ring, dressed with two bar stools. As such, its quality often approaches that of improvisation. But this spontaneity is ultimately undermined by the actors’ comfortable familiarity with the play’s pace, shape and words.
When we have travelled through the expositional stories of the boys’ history with bikes, drink and girls, we are finally told the catalytic story of ‘Katie’ in the ‘Working-Men’s,’ with the ‘snooker-cue.’ We are blindsided by the version of violation presented. This pay-off to the men’s anecdotes and monologues surrounding the figure of Katie would be sufficient as the play’s closing blow. It is interesting, therefore, that the tone shifts back to anecdotal storytelling at a meandering pace, before escalating at Jade City. The second blow is Monty’s possible suicide. In an unexpected stroke of character, Sas encourages this act in the context of their ‘game’ – as his friend’s atonement for Katie. This neatly ties up the one hour and ten minutes of drama.
Jade City is an immersive and intense play that clearly portrays the oppression of life lived within financial and social parameters. (The boxing-ring itself is under used considering its scope.) Malseed’s play has the potential to seethe with the visceral power of other dark storytelling dramas like The Walworth Farce. At present, Jade City leaves the impression of a gritty but contained and somewhat slowed-down explosion. Definitely worth a ticket.