Thursday, August 20, 2015

'Sid' at the Rabbit Hole, 19th August 2015

The Rabbit Hole is aptly named. Tucked away under a small but pleasant cat-populated pub, it's a small, black cubbyhole that seats about twenty people. It has the potential for claustrophobia, but with walls spattered with '77 era punk rock photos and teenage detritus scattered it's cosy. This is Craig's (Dario Coates) bedroom, though it may as well be an illustration of the inside of his head.

Born twenty years too late, Craig pines for the spirit of true punk rock. Not processed American skateboarder music, not teenage girl friendly eyeliner doused pop-punk - real punk. The kind of punk rock that blares from squats where damp climbs the walls, clinking bottles of spirits line the windowsills and a pile of used syringes steadily grows in the back the garden. Craig loves everything from that brief bloom in the late 70s, but is particularly fixated on the totemic figure of Sid Vicious.

Sid Vicious was as punk as it's possible to be: a man with a chip on his shoulder the size of Mt Everest, regularly engaged in self mutilation, dressed in grubby S&M chic, hooked on smack, skinny as a rake and with a crazy addict girlfriend who he later murdered in a failed suicide pact. He died of a heroin overdose while on bail, leaving a suicide note that read "bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots Goodbye". 

Sid now exists in Craig's head, a silent judge of his character and ersatz father figure - an impossible ideal that leaves Craig psychologically isolated. This manifests in a testy relationship with his Mum, worries over his uni-bound girlfriend and a general, nagging malaise. 

Back in January I'd seen a version of this play, then titled Ode to Sid, as part of The One Festival at The Space. I liked it then, but felt it would have benefited from a longer run-time to better explore the character. I got my wish and am pleased to say it paid off. Sid has evolved beyond a quick sketch and into a fascinating character study shot through with excitement, tension and pathos.

Some elements have been jettisoned altogether and others have been accentuated or toned down, leaving a streamlined narrative that's wholly engaging. For my money, the most successful improvement is a close focus on class conflict. In his night out with his girlfriend's university friends, we can wholly empathise with Craig's growing anger as they plummily hold court on punk rock. 

The conflict is derived from the students regarding punk as historical phenomenon to be dissected and analysed. This is anathema to Craig, whose personality hinges on the knowledge that punk is something you live, love and breath. How can punk be dead when he feels it pumping through his veins night after night? Craig needs punk to be real - a way that will rescue him from a life of dull working class bondage.

Sid, quite rightly, respects this idea of punk as tool of liberation. After all, spitting in the eye of the world and sweatily bouncing around a room to ragged guitar riffs feels free. But Sid goes further, probing the limits of punk philosophy. This manifests in showing Craig's arrested development, refusing to grow beyond teenager-dom. Soon, gently woven into the dialogue, Craig learns empathy for his mother and senses his own limitations.

This clash between the ideals of punk and the realities of life (filtered through the prism of Sid Vicious) proves to be fruitful. After all, the romantic image of Sid Vicious, ultimate punk rock superstar, obscures the grim reality of John Ritchie, the exhausted, lonely, suicidal drug addict. By the end, though he lived punk as much as anyone possibly could, Sid was deeply unhappy - and sensing this endpoint is what nudges Craig towards something better.

The process is beautifully performed by Coates. This is light years beyond his (already good) performance in January. The most potent arrows in his quiver are a willingness to engage with the audience, locking eyes with those in the front row as if Craig is trying to convince us of his sincerity. He also throws in a few brave moments of audience interaction, asking us to quiz him about anything to do with Sid Vicious (I ask who his father was and he answers correctly); and prompting us to kick out at the scenery.

Coates makes Craig an easy character to like: charismatically cocky, funny and energetic - as if he has some kind of electric charge stored up inside him. This makes the moments where he snaps extremely affecting - a lifetime of failed dreams, neglect, disappointment and pent-up anger violently erupting. He's a fascinating character, the hour we spend with him flies by.

Quick, energetic and focussed single person plays like this are why I enjoy the Camden Fringe so much. It proves that engaging an audience doesn't hinge on fistfuls of money, but on talented, incisive writing and performance. 


Sid is at the Rabbit Hole, Hampstead until 22 August. Tickets here.

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