EUTCo return to the Fringe with another Simon Stephens play following the success of Bluebird last year. Motortown is the story of Danny, played here by James Dartford, who returns home after a stint fighting in Basra with the army. He returns emotionally and psychologically damaged, and is faced with returning to a normal life.
Motortown is dark, brutal and hard-hitting. This production manages to capture the anger, cynicism and bitterness of Stephens’ text, while bringing out the humour and sensitivity with skill and maturity.
As with all of the playwright’s work, this is heavy stuff with a number of violent and unpleasant scenes. With the exception of a couple of amateur sound effects, all of these challenging moments are expertly tackled with tight direction from Charlie O’Reardon.
Dartford gives an intense and sadistic performance as Danny, even if he doesn't always get the physicality and posture quite right. There is an absence of any physical manifestation of his state of mind – at one point a character refers to his “hand shaking”, although Dartford doesn’t actually ever shake. This is a vital mannerism which really needs to be present, and it’s one of the few moments in this production that feels ill-thought through. Overall however Dartford commands the stage and gives a terrifying and powerful performance, using his excellent vocal skills to fill the space with his shouts.
The supporting cast all perform with commitment and energy, and there is some lovely synchronised movement from the ensemble in transitions. Tom Chapman plays the mildly autistic Lee superbly; his posture is excellent, and he performs utterly convincingly throughout. Adam Foster plays Tom with fantastic comic timing, and is absolutely captivating. All of the performers are very able, and only the occasional moment feels anything other than professional.
A stunning atmosphere, wonderful performances and Stephens' impeccable writing make for a very special piece of student theatre.