In his programme notes writer/director Luke Bailey says his ambition is to make his new play Dissociation accessible to newcomers to the theatre. Fair enough; but it’s debatable whether the play has wider appeal. For one thing it’s hard to find a sympathetic character. Talloach (Tachia Newall), newly released from detention, wallows in self-pity and, along with his friends, justifies a lack of involvement as a refusal to be exploited by the authorities. Isaiah (Holliday Grainger), a new resident of his halfway house, may be a catalyst for change.
Perhaps in an effort to attract (or manipulate) his target audience Bailey offers a gimmicky and crowded first act. There is more swearing and aggression in the first scene than the average Tarantino movie – even the foster mother is foul-mouthed. A broad comedy routine by Talloach and his friends evolves into a spontaneous fantasy rap party. But Bailey does not foreshadow any plot developments so that, when the second act turns into a sort of thriller, it feels contrived and unrealistic. Without the necessary suspense for support moments that are meant to stimulate horror instead provoke giggles.
The rapidly shifting scenes in act one set a restless mood that jars with the more sedate act two. Bailey sets out his arguments about the flaws in society in series of speeches that are marvellously delivered by Newall. But the change in pace is so abrupt that they feel artificial – like, well, speeches, rather than actual conversation.
As a director Bailey secures excellent performances. The fluid interaction between the cast members is relaxed and completely natural. Exceptional use is made of the Lowry Young Actors Company - bursting through the audience and invading the stage to form a madly enthusiastic rap party.
Central to the play is an outstanding performance from Tachia Newall. Even without speaking he is able to convey resentment and self-loathing by his perfect defensive body language: sitting sullen, legs wide apart and twitching. Although much of the dialogue is delivered in ‘ yoof’ patois Newall is able to communicate deeper meaning with his powerful delivery.
Bailey concentrates on Talloch to the exclusion of other characters. They simply revolve around the central character becoming less like people and more convenient illustrations of positive and negative options for Talloch to consider. Holliday Grainger is largely wasted in an underwritten role.
It is hardly a surprise that a play called Dissociation does not have universal appeal and you have to admire Bailey’s efforts to attract non-theatregoers. You do wonder, however, if the show will tempt any of them to attend the theatre again.