Manchester Theatre Awards

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Our Kid (The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

Elliot Laurence
Squinted Vision
Crown and Kettle, Manchester
19 July 2017 to 21 July 2017

One of the features of fringe theatre is that shows take place in venues not designed to host theatrical productions. This can add atmosphere but is also liable to attract distractions. The latter is the case for Our Kid, which is sited in a corner of, rather than a separate room in, a noisy pub. 

After the funeral of Andy, his brother Michael (Marcus Christopherson) and friend Karl (Josh Hart) go around to the home of mutual friend Jimmy (Elliot Laurence, who wrote the play) to ask why he did not attend the funeral. But Jimmy is evasive and the conversation bogs down in trivia. The arrival of Cathy (Laura Betts), an ex-girlfriend of Andy’s whose reputation he blackened, gives Jimmy a further opportunity to dodge the question. 

Elliot Laurence holds back key details, such as the cause of Andy’s death, to ensure a shocking revelation at the end. But the audience gets so little information that, during the bulk of the play, we know very little about the characters, including the late Andy. Only towards the end do we find out that two of them work in the building industry, while a third is something of a slacker. It is hard to believe that no-one would remark on the manner of Andy’s death. 

The paucity of information limits the extent to which the cast can develop their characters. They have probably worked out backstories for them – Josh Hart’s agitated, twitching Karl is angry about something – but do not get the chance to express them in the play, due to the limited detail. 

Without hints to help the audience anticipate developments and build interest, Our Kid drifts. The opening sequence becomes a kind of observational comedy routine, with the friends chatting about subjects that form the basis of discussions in pubs - why men prefer cider to wine, or their favourite variety of crisps, and so on. Author Laurence may be making a point about the tendency of men to hide deeper feelings behind trivia, but the sequence goes on too long. 

Our Kid tackles a difficult subject, but the cautious approach limits its success. Taking a risk on the audience guessing the twist would have allowed the discussion to widen and include matters relevant to the plot – such as whether Andy was the person they believed him to be, or if his behaviour had changed, or if his criticism of Cathy was fair – and made a richer play.

Reviewer: David Cunningham