Simon Ward reviews Pick n Mix Downstairs at The Pleasance
Taking the bare bones of the plot of Kat Rose-Martin’s brilliant debut play, having its London premiere in North London’s Pleasance, could well suggest a dose of kitchen-sink Northern miserabilism. We witness period pains and problems, multiple unplanned pregnancies, underage sex, infidelity and dodgy Tinder dates, all crammed into 90 minutes. From this unpromising material Rose-Martin has conjured up an authentic, heart-warming, heart-breaking and frequently hilarious story which delivers insights into the highs and lows of friendship, family and sex.
Olivia (Charlotte Ellis) and big sister Kim (Natalie Davies) live above their mum’s sweetshop, economically evoked by a few wholesale size boxes of lurid-coloured chews and those stripey paper bags only found in old-fashioned sweetshops. Madi Omatseone’s set design makes ingenious use of packing crates to render everything from the girls’ bedrooms to windswept bus-stops. And Alex Chisholm’s direction ensures that the arranging and re-arranging of crates between scenes is expertly choreographed, and milked for character nuance.
Kim has left school and works in the shop. Olivia’s best friend is Alisha (Sonia Wrightson). We see the younger girls listlessly while away their time at school, apparently ignoring any lessons, in particular the one where they are taught how to use a condom by putting them on their arms. This clearly fails to make an impact as there is no mention of contraception of any kind in any of the sex scenes we witness. Which will have disastrous consequences. Kim’s boyfriend is Jordan (Morgan Scriven), who is studying at college and wants to be a police officer, although his skill and sensitivity in helping Olivia with her maths homework suggest he might be better suited to another profession. Kim and Jordan get on well enough, although she has a sneaking attraction for Kash the pizza delivery guy (Mustafa Chaudry) and he is not averse to going on a Tinder date, so perhaps they are not as well matched as they think.
The fun of the piece is the unravelling of the plot, so I won’t spoil it here. Suffice to say that it is elaborate, well executed, and remains just this side of believable. What comes across most of all throughout is the close-knit world that the characters inhabit, where everyone knows everyone and bumps into each other everywhere they go. And they show no desire to escape, although they might not be speaking to someone for a while. There are hints at some challenges, eg Alisha’s family would be less than happy if they knew she had a white boyfriend, and Olivia is afraid to reveal her pregnancy, but they seem to determined to solve them where they are. They are rooted in their community and their town. And for all their tribulations, the friendship of the three girls is stronger than anything else and it will be the bedrock that they build their lives on.
Considering everything that they go through it may be hard to see a good long term outcome for anyone here. But Rose-Martin refuses to let us focus on that or even think that. She insists on optimism, some fundamental goodness in each of these characters, in spite of their fiery temper and frankly terrible behaviour, which will be stronger and more enduring. That, in the end, was a message I found impossible to resist.
Pick n Mix is running at Pleasance Islington, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7 9EF until Saturday 4 February 2023
Leave a Reply