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Bottleneck (tour - Watford, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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 We're in Liverpool during 1989, in the company of 14-going-on-15 year-old Greg. He lives on a sink estate (known locally as The Boot) and is in trouble at school, unhappy at home – his mum has walked out and Dad is left to brood – mad about football and ignorant about the mechanics of sex as evinced by those alien creatures – girls, gay men and paedophiles. He has one real friend, asthmatic Tom.

Luke Barnes's monologue gets inside the skin of Greg, as he rages against the world around him without the vocabulary to express all the nuances of that anger, so that expletives stand in for everything, the important and the trivial alike. James Cooney gives a very good performance, immensely physical as the narrative builds up to the Hillsborough Stadium disaster. The relentless beat of music with as small a dynamic scale as the restricted idiom in which Greg communicates underlines the action.

It's physical theatre in one sense as Steven Atkinson has directed Cooney and Georgina Lamb has choreographed it. The stage is bare, excepting heaps of old clothes which serve as rudimentary goalposts on a chalked-out pitch. This symbolic waste-ground stands for all that's wrong with Greg's existence; even the thieving and cheating which gain him a coveted ticket to the fatal match is ludicrously flawed.

I suspect that audience members who know about football and who can fathom the intricacies of the Liverpool accent and dialect will get most from this intensely concentrated play. It will be seen at this year's HighTide Festival in May as the culmination of a short spring tour.


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