Bottleneck (4 stars)

This article is from 2012


Haunting, horrifying tale, brought to life by vivid writing

By the time you realise precisely what Luke Barnes’ play is up to, it’s already too late. You’re already in the thick of it. Far be it from me to let on. If you saw it coming, it could easily seem indulgent and crass. Instead, Barnes shows a familiar scar through fresh eyes, as lived experience not history.

Bottleneck seems to start in 2012. There’s austerity in the air and a deepset suspicion of the police. Football and sex, ideally with a Kop End hero, provide the best route out of poverty.

Two days before his 15th birthday, Liverpudlian ragamuffin Greg is whizzing around his neighbourhood. It should, he says, be called Slag’s End. He’s crude, destructive and overbearing, but ultimately harmless: hot air and hyperactivity, too naïve to be taken seriously.

But he’s still an arresting presence: so pent-up, so in need of something constructive. James Cooney plays him like a firework set off indoors, ricocheting off the walls of the claustophobic Pleasance Attic. He seems an ASBO-in-waiting, but gradually – skilfully – Barnes shifts the timeframe. Paedophiles are the bogeymen de jour; John Barnes the hero. Greg’s beloved Liverpool are still sponsored by Candy.

And suddenly, you’re there: in the middle of this horrendous and iconic moment that’s totally brought to life by Barnes’ vividly expressionistic writing. He plucks details out of a background blur: fingernails digging into skin, tears squeezed out of their ducts. It’s haunting and horrifying and Steven Atkinson’s production, which seems over-energetic to start, surpasses itself with a quiet, taut dignity. In the middle of the melee, a boy celebrating his 15th birthday comes of age in an instant.

That time-shift is all-important. It makes you realise that nothing’s changed, that, in this era of rampant inequality, the poor remain consigned to their fate like second-class passengers locked in on the lower decks of the Titanic.

Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 26 Aug (not 13), 2pm, £9 (£8).


  • 4 stars

Steven Atkinson directs Luke Barnes' fizzing Liverpudlian coming-of-age drama. HighTide Festival Theatre is a new-writing powerhouse, championing this new generation of outstanding playwrights and producing their work with partners including the National Theatre, Old Vic, Soho Theatre, Headlong, to the West End, and…

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