A triple threat of Vera Lynn explains the title of drama school graduate Hayley Squires’ vivid first play, yet another promising talent off the rank in this year’s Young Writers Festival.
Vera Lynn’s war-time songs – “Wish Me Luck,” “When I Grow Too Old To Dream,” and others – cover the scene changes in two parallel stories of aggression and attack.
Schoolboy Sammy (Ted Riley) prepares to fight a playground adversary while flirting with his possible girlfriend, Charlie (Abby Rakic-Platt), in the lunch break. Charlie has jam sandwiches and a copy of Romeo and Juliet, a play Sammy summarises for her (“I’ve seen the film, anyway”) as modern gang warfare.
Their three scenes are punctuated with acrimonious preparations, three months earlier, for the funeral of a soldier killed in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The dead man is Charlie’s cousin; his sister Emily (Danielle Flett) is harassed by her psychopathic drug-dealing brother Danny (Tommy McDonnell), while his best friend Lee (Daniel Kendrick), Emily’s latest lover in a long line of them, all soldiers, tries to keep the peace.
In some ways the short 60-minute play, which has cracking dialogue and terrific acting in Jo McInnes’ brilliantly cast production, feels like an outline for a more sustained, more complex drama.
It’s never settled whether Sammy or Emily is the play’s focus. And there’s a soft argument on both sides about “cuddles” being the answer to conflict, in private and public.
But the raw authenticity in the exchanges on skewed friendship, teenage sexuality and the pat myth of the dead soldier’s heroism – Emily says that he, like all of them in this scuzzy Kent enclave, was useless, drugged-up, a total waste of space – is hypnotically compelling.
Danielle Flett delivers that last speech with indelible tragic fervour, eyes glistening with tears, hair twisting out of order, despair rising like the bleak future ahead, just as Sammy and Charlie, knuckles raw from their little local difficulty (she joins in his fight), start nursing a small flame of affection.