Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Borderland

James Harker
Public Burning Theatre
Oldham Coliseum Studio
09 March 2017 to 10 March 2017

After its barnstorming highlight of the 2015 24:7 Festival with Gary, A Love Story, Public Burning Theatre returns with a play that really rather underplays the claims made in its own advance materials.

I'm not sure if this is supposed to lower or raise our expectations, but claiming that Borderland is nothing less than an "urgent look at modern day segregation" that will "challenge liberal and traditional values alike" and “bring a whole community to its knees” made me expect violence and general unpleasantness, this being set in Oldham at the time of the riots of the early 2000s.

What we actually get is a rather charming little love story between two teenage girls that falls apart when nasty uncles and feelings of shame get the better of the girls’ feelings. Society is hardly brought to its knees by the news that young girls are hurt and made anxious by people being unpleasant to them.

But while writer James Harker and director Danielle McIlven don’t quite live up to their hype (what could, without at some point a Molotov cocktail or two being thrown on to the stage?), they do offer us a story set in lonely desperation, one that grows organically and sets out the really-want-it aspirations of boxer and loner Kayla (Chloe McLaughlin) and the feelings of shame that overcome naive muslim girl Aminah (Lucky Sanghera).

That the girls get reported unpleasantness from their schoolfriends and physical nastiness from Kayla’s boxing coach and uncle, Terry (Rob Ward) only serves to strengthen Kayla’s two-fingers-to-the-world resolve and the collapse of Aminah’s.

McLaughlin particularly gets the audience cheering on her search for happiness in a rather cold world but her performance is nicely balanced by the diffidence of Sanghera and roughness of Ward.

But overall the play leaves one feeling a sense of being a little let down by its aspirations.

Reviewer: Paul Genty