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Director Josh Roche - 'Plastic at the Old Red Lion is the most technically difficult play I've ever worked on'
Written by Kenneth Emson, Plastic is a new thriller set in the 90s that looks at the stories of four kids growing up in Essex from the perspective of both adults reminiscing, and teenagers living.
Josh Roche is a JMK Award winner who directs the piece at the Old Red Lion Theatre, and here he talks about what to expect from the piece.
What kind of play is Plastic? Well, it’s some kind of garage verse poem, or more accurately it’s a direct address play in four voices - all of which interlink using the rhymes and rhythms of garage music along with Essex vernacular. It’s also a memory play, a thriller, a school horror and a retelling of local folklore. So to some degree it resists categorisation.
The play follows the events of four people who were at school together at a rough secondary in Essex. Two are remembering the events of the play from the present day, the other two are living them in real time twenty years ago.
A lot of us have a strange relationship with our teenage years. As adults we are made in the playground, but as soon as we grow up we start forgetting. Eventually our teens are diluted into the rest of our life and we relegate them, forgetting how traumatic and difficult they were. Nothing that I have had to deal with as an adult has compared to the hurt and confusion of being a teenager. Teens experience judgement on a scale that dwarfs our office politics. They are judged on their clothes, their body and their language relentlessly, and within a social system that is so anxious and insecure that it changes the rules every term; your trainers that were cool in the spring, are suddenly leprosy in the winter, and being a virgin suddenly becomes a kind of social disease.
Ignoring or belittling young people is absurd. I have a friend who still won’t talk to his childhood bully, despite the fact they are both ten years away from a classroom, and have grown into kind, well-adjusted people. Our teens matter, and we forget them at our peril.
That’s the theme that gave birth to the Plastic. Set in the 1990s, when Kenny Emson was a teenager, the play is a deep dive back into a world of Pulp, Reebok Classics and Ronaldo the First. Kenny used the rhymes and rhythms of the garage music he listened to at the time as an aural blueprint for the play. He also took his home county of Essex as the setting, writing from an experience of school that was familiar to him. Yet aside from the references, the play is about love and friendship on a grand scale. The schoolroom is as wide and grand a setting for love and friendship as the hallways of power, or the hallowed kitchen sink. Plastic is a play that makes wide, eloquent poetry out of garage music and teenage memories.
The play has been with Kenny for years. The first draft was started years ago, as one of Kenny’s earliest plays. Sometime later a draft found its way to Molly Roberts at Poleroid Theatre. The originality and the ambition of the play stuck out, and happily she passed it on to me, an associate director with Poleroid.
Bringing it into London was always Molly’s ambition. Poleroid exists to find the best new writing and to make it, with a focus on developing artists and reaching young audiences. As a result, Plastic will perform for three weeks at the Old Red Lion and then head to the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. Obviously with the roots of the play performing in Essex was important to the whole enterprise.
This is without a shadow of a doubt the most technically difficult play I have ever worked on; the cast are commonly moving between memories, personas, situations and rhyme structures at lightening pace. The fourth wall goes up, comes down and goes up again like it’s got haemorrhoids. As a result, Kenny and I are thanking our lucky stars for the cast that agreed to work on it; Mark Weinman, Thomas Coombes, Madison Clare and Louis Greatorex.
What is hopefully emerging is a truly original play about the loves, friendships and tragedies of teenagers. We want to suggest that their lives are as heartfelt as ours, which we would see plainly, if we dared to look.