Bacon – Finborough Theatre, London
Screenwriter: Sophie Swithinbank
Director: Matthew Iliffe
Stories of sickening violence among teenagers attending inner-city schools frequently fill local news reports, but we get little information about the details of their lives and the causes of their behavior. Sophie Swithinbank’s new 75-minute one-act play interrogates teenage macho culture with the vision of an outsider looking within and discovering its soft core.
Mark and Darren are 15, both from single parent families, but seemingly opposites. Mark is geeky, smartly dressed, conformist and proud of the vest he made for his dog. Darren is an unruly and aggressive bully, lying as ostensibly about his sexual exploits as about a three-day vacation in Barbados; his idea of defying convention is driving through a McDonald’s, but his love for his three pet mice (Mac, Cheese, and Salad) points to some redeeming characteristics. For completely different reasons, the two boys are friendless. The story of their strange relationship is told by Mark, after an unexpected reunion four years later.
The swing that spans the width of the cross-stage in Natalie Johnson’s simple set design could be a metaphor for the progression of the play, as laddish comedy and visceral drama vie for supremacy. Bacon begins as a bittersweet bromance, but becomes an engrossing emotional journey as Mark and Darren struggle to come to terms with their sexuality. The constant throughout the piece is Swithinbank’s razor-sharp writing.
Corey Montague-Sholay reveals the inner turmoil beneath Mark’s calm, orderly exterior. There is genuine amazement on his face when it occurs to him that Darren had simply acknowledged his existence. Mark realizes he is gay, but cannot make sense of his feelings for Darren, and in his confusion resorts to self-harm.
The vulnerability masked by Darren’s swagger is brought out beautifully by William Robinson, who makes it clear that all of the character’s rule breaking is driven by his need to be noticed by a neglectful father. Working together, the two actors generate explosive force, unleashed by physical energy and precise timing.
Using the tight performance space to the max, director Matthew Iliffe’s sizzling production moves at breakneck speed, slowing only for the tenderest exchanges. Like a gourmet frying, this Bacon is to be savored.
Until March 26, 2022