Raz review of Jim Cartwright's new one man play
This New Year there was a photograph of a night out in Manchester that captured the headlines with many referencing its likeness to a Renaissance painting. Whilst art critics threw their arms up in disgust, Twitter and social media shared the photo that displayed scenes of carnage following a night of binge drinking comparing its composition to that of 'The Last Supper' and the Sistine Chapel. Whilst the debate was mainly light-hearted, the photograph certainly gave an effective snapshot of a night out in modern Britain, a theme effectively addressed by Jim Cartwright in his latest play.
Written as a monologue for the central character Shane, it's an efficiently swift stumble through the life of a 'weekend millionaire' who ends work on a Friday with cash in hand and endeavours to ensure there's not a penny left by Monday. Starting with buying a new shirt, it descends into a binge of drugs and alcohol, but the darker side is inevitably present amongst the laughs and highly relatable situations.
From that description you'd be forgiven for mistaking Shane to be a 17 year old or University student, but the true horror of the picture Cartwright is addressing is a somewhat forgotten generation, that of those in their early 30s who continue to live with their parents and are stuck with a job but no career.
Cartwright's son James ably takes us through a night out in Shane's world, beginning with a sunbed tan session, through to a drugs pick up and inevitable cocktails of drink, pills and regret by sunrise. Whilst a little slight in parts, there's a strong undercurrent of despair in Shane's character, from his fear at running into his girlfriend to the underlying insecurities that he attempts to mask with more Lynx Africa than a school changing room.
The language can at times feel slightly dated with a couple of old references, but there's a distinct charm in the patter that makes the voice genuine and truly engaging. It's clear that the character is coming from Cartwright's voice representing the generation, but James' performance brings the necessary youthful energy that Shane requires. Cartwright's skill at creating an idiolect and an instantly mesmerising character is second to none, and Raz displays his confident ability to outline, develop and extend a character that's a truly unique gift. The moments of rhyme work especially well and sustain the theatrical context whilst confirming Cartwright's skill as one of our finest wordsmiths.
The show rests in many ways on James Cartwright's shoulders, and he morphs into each of the characters effortlessly. He handles the pace extremely well, mixing moments of genuine charm with the pathos the character deserves. He's instantly likeable and comfortable onstage - qualities that monologue plays ultimately require. He is clearly affected by the performance by the very end, which only shows his utter commitment to the role and his rocket-fuelled virtuoso performance.
Whilst Cartwright picks up on many of the darker issues, these are mainly left for the audience to consider. I'd love to see a companion piece from the perspective of one of Shane's parents, perhaps addressing how this shift has affected that generation in a different way. Under the surface it's a fairly bleak message, but Cartwright avoids polemicising or passing judgement - that is left to the audience to take home.
Between the vivid language and neatly directed performance, Raz captures the spirit of that Renaissance 'night out' photo, and effectively uses its solo character to speak for the wider generation. An entertaining yet thought provoking production.