Venue: New Century House
Where: Manchester

Fifteen-year-old Chantelle (Dolly-Rose Campbell) is in the last chance saloon and keeps pushing her luck. Although Social Worker Ella (a quietly charismatic Helen Macfarlane) offers the opportunity to transform her dead-end life she is attracted to drug dealer and gang member Dylan (Rob Ward).

Loaded - written by Jo Kirtley Pritchard, with director Martin Jameson as dramaturg, treads a well-worn path with situations familiar from other social dramas. Kirtley Pritchard’s background in social work brings veracity to the play with Darren Connolly’s step father being so bone idle his concern is less that Chantelle has formed an unsuitable relationship than that he will have to look after her drunken mother alone.

But in order to generate a twist ending the writer and director conceal key information about the motivation of some of the characters. As a result the climax feels contrived – a cheat rather than a surprise. The details could have been given at an earlier stage and, although losing the shock ending, would still have been emotionally affecting.  

Dolly-Rose Campbell gives a blinding performance making Chantelle almost a force of nature. She enters effing and blinding, flashing her knickers and coated in glitter - a marvellous display of raw attitude. It would be very hard to like Chantelle except that Campbell subtly draws out the sweeter side of the girl. Kirtley Pritchard is less confident in developing the character of Dylan but Ward catches the conflict of someone who knows he is in a mess and isn’t sure how to get out.

The script is congested but director Jameson ensures that all information is delivered with clarity that does not interfere with the emotional impact. The final showdown involves the delivery of new information at the same time as some excellent action by fight director Arron White. It could be confusing chaos but Jameson ensures the scene is both exciting and clear.

Loaded offers a new look at situations that may never go away and a character who has the potential to be a most unusual heroine.

- Dave Cunningham