"They fuck you up, your mum and dad…" So begins "This Be The Verse", Philip Larkin’s infamous rallying call to end the interminable production line of progeny he sees miserably populating the earth. It’s a biting sentiment and one that could have found no greater spiritual home than Andrew Sheridan’s bleak debut play Winterlong.
Oscar, a sweet natured kid, slowly has his hopes and dreams of love squashed out of him by his self loathing adult relations. Ignored, inappropriately propositioned, stolen from, his grandparents and parents cannot even bring themselves to hold his hand.
Joint winner of the Bruntwood Competition in 2008, Winterlong is a text of admirable structural ambition. Weighing in at a hefty two hours plus and with pretentions to the heightened naturalism of Harold Pinter or Howard Barker, Sheridan has certainly dreamt big.
Sarah Frankcom’s desolate production does justice to these aspirations. Setting the action in Amanda Stoodley’s suitably Beckettian wasteland, an otherworldly rubbish dump of life’s tatty collectables (bikes, radios, saucepans, all suffocating under a river of clear plastic – a nod to Oscars own emotional suffocation?) Frankcom adds an apocalyptic feel to what is essentially a twisted tale of family screw ups. A taut cast ramp up the intensity levels to near boiling point with acute and emotionally wrought performances.
As for the play itself Sheridan starts well, brutally dissecting the broken parent child relationships with a ruthless elegance. But the second act fails to leap from the podiums built in the first and Oscar’s story remains safely ensconced in familiar territory. For all its dreams of Greek tragedy, and Winterlong does sucker punch you at points, this story is simply an everyday tale of cruelty, and there’s sadly nothing original in that.