Theatre Review - Monkeywood Theatre presents “Flesh”, Burnley Youth Theatre


"Flesh" - Credit: Archant

Monkeywood Theatre presents “Flesh”, Burnley Youth Theatre - Review by Rob Gemmell

“I don’t know why I did the test then, but I did. I couldn’t wait. And there was just one line so I chucked it, but then Dylan looked at it again, he had to get it out the bin and there was two lines. Two lines means you’re pregnant.”

Shannon and Dylan are 16. They’re in love. And they’re having a baby. The synopsis for “Flesh” written by Sarah McDonald Hughes is a simple one. A simple outline to a life changing subject recorded at all angles with different approaches focussing on both positive and negative aspects, but mixed together to tell a story which merges comedy with drama.

On arrival we are not greeted by silence, but by a soundtrack playing out the theme of the play through speakers. A conversation between two girls discussing pregnancy. The set is basic. A square floor with a collection of hexagonal shapes in the centre and four blocks on each corner that our four actors perch on. The set doesn’t need to be complex. A play of this magnitude was created for the purpose of acting. It allows the audience to free their minds and for them to visualise the story purely through the performances of the individuals. Each character tells their version of events as if addressing the audience, the actors alternating between different characters to help the smooth flow of the script which floated delicately and with ease causing no interuption and allowing the story to be told seamlessly.

Curtis Cole is Dylan. Dylan works in the local B&M Bargains, a store in which Shannon (Sarah McDonald Hughes) often frequents with her Nan. The attraction between the pair is instant and told through a series of hilarious asides to the audience. Dylan and Shannon eventually start to see each other much to the disapproval of Shannon’s mother, Cathy (played by Meriel Scholfield). Cathy senses that Dylan could be trouble and her mothering instinct and protective nature take over, but instead of bringing Shannon closer, it drives her away.

Shannon is friends with Georgia played by Francesca Waite who is 26 years old and has a son that she doesn’t see who lives with his father. Georgia cannot help the attraction she still holds for her ex, but the authorities won’t allow the two of them to be together which also means that her son has become a stranger to her. Georgia gets pregnant via Karl (her ex, a secondary character potrayed by Cole) and we soon see the real side of him as he demands she gets an abortion. She decides against it and leaves Karl thinking otherwise which leads to terrifying consequences.

Meanwhile, Shannon and Dylan have been getting closer and during a conversation she admits to him that she has always wanted to have a baby. It is a subject that most 16 year olds would have trouble discussing let alone being able to make a decision about. She defends herself by claiming that she would want one in the future and not at the present moment, but there is an underlying feeling that she isn’t being completely honest and that is where the story moves in a slightly different direction to expectation.

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When dealing with teenage pregnancies the first thought would be how young couples would be against it. It would depict the fears and panic that ensues, but Sarah McDonald Hughes’ story shows another side. She shows a situation where a young couple are excited by the prospect of bringing a new life into the world and the initial fears of parenthood are non-existent. It is the aftermath of the pregnancy which draws on some of the negative aspects. This part tells the message. An important annoucment to the young audience of the implications that parenting at a young age can bring. But it is Shannon’s defiance to succeed as a mother which shines through in her character.

The four actors all portrayed wonderful roles and the wealth of experience they held between them was pivotal in telling a truly thought-provoking story. The expertise of their acting was played largely by the metamorphosis between characters to bring a fuller content to the story and allow for a series of different locations, events and situations to be played out. Curtis Cole showed true versatility between two of the stories main characters with gentle ease. A soft, sensitive, confused and perhaps misunderstood character as Dylan and a darker, more perturbed and villainous character in Karl. Meriel Scholfield played Cathy, Shannon’s mum with almost effortless ease. Her mothering nature and warmth brought realism to the role illustrating the true mannerisms of a mother trying to do the best to protect her daughter. Francesa Waite held a truly wonderfully composed performance as Georgia. A misguided soul unable to control her attractions with a willingness to provide and prove herself right. Her graceful nature of character and non-stop motion were integral to the story’s main prognosis. Sarah McDonald Hughes graced the stage expertly with a truly professional air proving her abilities not just as an actor, but as a writer as well.

Hughes’s script was well honed, punctual, funny, thrilling and dramatic. It glided through scenarios without stopping for breath gathering attention from the audience. It provided smiles and near-certain tears with a witty, true to life account of situations that are happening everyday with an added edge of powerful emotion to complete a perfect story.

“Flesh” has been nominated for Best New Play at this year’s Theatre Awards in Manchester and on this performance it is not surprising. It is going to take something really special to beat it to the prize.

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