There's been quite a buzz about Luke Barnes' play, and one can understand why. Performed with terrific energy by James Cooney, what starts as a funny, sweary monologue about a Liverpool teenager going about his life darkens as he finds himself embroiled in a major true-life national event. The boy who wants to be a man is suddenly forced to be.
Cooney plays the kind of adolescent one enjoys seeing on stage but hopes never to encounter in life. Kicking around on the estates of Liverpool "where people have to work harder to live shitter" he has rows with his mates, gets belted by his dad and "raped" by a girl, among other episodes. The writing snaps and crackles like Mark O'Rowe or Enda Walsh: we get "cock", "fanny" and "bell-end" in the first twenty seconds; later, the sun is described as "peaking over the tree-tops like a paedo in the bushes". When the play takes its surprising turn, though, the play and the character find their maturity.
The production initially has difficulty fitting Cooney's thrilling physicality and Barnes' visceral world into the sweat-box playing space but when the substance emerges it finds the more immersive presentational style the writing demands. Like The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, also presented by HighTide, Bottleneck is quite different from the show one expects, yet both share an exciting self-confidence that holds the attention throughout.
In a city full of average beverages, Bottleneck is a pretty fine wine.
- by Benet Catty