The second, long-time-in-gestation, joint winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize for playwriting to premiere at the Exchange this week (the other is the excellent Mogadishu in the main house), Winterlong is a remarkably nasty piece from Manchester-based actor turned writer Andrew Sheridan.
He tells of the particularly gruesome pains of growing up in the case of Oscar, a loner who was abandoned by his schoolgirl mother and deranged father when he was a four-year-old.
Raised by grandparents, whose love also hasn’t been exactly smothering - in a final exchange his grandfather tells him again that he hates him - Oscar is valiantly trying to make his way in life and in fact is encouragingly inquisitive and loving.
Why Sheridan has seen fit to overlay this rites of passage scenario with graphic gothic horrors in virtually every other line, is pretty incomprehensible. But the script overflows with urine, vomit, blood, puss, squirting excreta and worse.
Add detailed descriptions of various violent, mostly sexual, acts and it makes for a pretty unpleasant experience. I’m not squeamish about anything much the theatre can throw at me but in this case it seems nastily and persistently unnecessary.
It is presented on a receding perspective setting of walls covered in crumpled polythene sheeting, behind which can be glimpsed the clutter of a lifetime of everyday life.
Though I hated the piece the performances are excellent, with Harry McEntire as Oscar holding centre stage practically throughout and emerging from the cesspit with considerable and likable presence. Paul Copley’s emotionally crippled grandfather is very strong too. These turns lift the piece but not enough, unfortunately.