Coram's Fields, London WC1
Opened 21 June, 2001

The Almeida at King's Cross is the co-producer of the London visit of Decky Does A Bronco by Scottish site-specific specialist company Grid Iron. Douglas Maxwell's 75-minute memory play is staged outdoors, on and around a set of swings, in this case in Coram's Fields.

Of the five male characters ("There are no girls in the play," says Maxwell in a wry note to the published text, "because girls just spoil stuff"), three are seen in both their nine-year-old and adult incarnations, being forced to grow up by the central tragedy depicted in the piece; the other two figures are David, the narrator (Keith Macpherson), and the ill-fated Decky, nicely played by David Ireland with a blend of childlike swashbuckling verve on the one hand and backwardness and timidity on the other, as he repeatedly fails to do a "bronco" jumping off a swing while it is in motion and leaving it to go up and over the frame.

Ben Harrison rightly keeps his company away from exaggerated little-boy acting: the characters' age comes out of their activities over a summer at the playground, not out of fakey technique on the part of the actors. Harrison and stunt co-ordinator Jonathan Campbell also ensure that the business on the swings is utterly convincing, with the action sequences edged along by Finitribe founder Philip Pinsky's often wryly generic synthesized score.

There is a distinct difference in atmosphere between seeing the show, as I did last August, in an all but deserted Edinburgh playground at dusk and, as last week, on a Saturday matinee in a populous central London park: amid the general activity, and with onlooking children drifting in and out of the playing area, it becomes less about the burden of recollection and more a celebration of the happier events, as performances have to be pitched larger and louder (notwithstanding that the cast are miked up) to overcome the background hubbub.

Nevertheless, in the final movement it becomes apparent that I was over-harsh on Maxwell's writing last summer: yes, he resorts to a modish contemporary demon-figure, albeit offstage, for the climax to his story, but he discreetly pursues the ideas thereby introduced for quite some distance. At this point, though, the play needs some kind of final stillness in the surrounding atmosphere, and the impossibility of such in Coram's Fields devalues the impact of the ending.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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