Abigail Bryant reviews Shanter at Old Red Lion Theatre
The transition from teenager to adult is a notoriously colourful and precarious time, and the age of social media brings with it a new layer of complexity and identity politics. Shanter explores ‘lad culture’ against the backdrop of a music festival – where alcohol, drugs, sex and outlandish behaviour are part and parcel of the event. Five friends who have taken different paths reunite to enjoy a wild weekend, but things quickly spiral into dangerous territory as dynamics change and the past is unravelled.
All five cast members execute their roles credibly, and express a youthful energy that feels authentic when it could have easily felt affected. Jordan Clarke in particular, who plays the cringe-worthy but incredibly relatable Berty, is really convincing and an excellent anchor for the action that surrounds his character’s vulnerability. Maisie Brooker’s writing is fluid and funny, while subtly probing at important questions around peer pressure, bullying, responsibility and the evolution of relationships. Brooker also plays the central role of Amber, who’s troubled romance with Noah (Conor Delaney) is a catalyst for a shift in group dynamics and the bleak events that follow. While all characters are engaging, believable and compelling to watch, Noah’s backstory feels a little weak and shoe-horned, but the chemistry between all five friends compensates for this.
Music, lighting and direction by Joshua Elliot really immerse the audience into the action, and the simplicity of the set is effective in maintaining a strong focus on the characters. However, an even more understated and less amateur approach could have made the whole production feel more sophisticated and added an extra sense gravity. Overall though, Shanter provides a perfect balance of fun, intelligent humour and an insightful exploration of youth vulnerability, especially in the context of those closest to them. When it comes to banter, how far is too far? And where does responsibility lie when alarming consequences are tangible? These are the questions that Maisie Brooker’s play addresses, with an undoubtedly talented young cast that truly bring to life the dramas of festival culture in a cosy pub in Islington.