Winterlong at Soho Theatre

Written for TheatreFix

Winterlong, the first play from Bruntwood Prize-winning playwright Andrew Sheridan, is an ambitious and intriguing drama about Oscar, a boy who is repeatedly rejected by those around him.

Beginning at the moment when Oscar’s pregnant teenager mother goes into labour, and spanning his upbringing and scenes of Oscar as a teenager himself, we witness the cycles of poverty and loveless-ness that envelope his existence. This is a recognisable but undeniably perverse universe, and, although often gripping to watch, one which eventually becomes too disjointed to seem plausible.

Sheridan creates a host of compelling characters and Harry McEntire and Gabrielle Reidy as Oscar and his grandmother Jean do an especially convincing job. The language of the play is also edgy and sometimes fantastically original. Observing a fellow diner in a Blackpool fish and chip shop, Oscar’s grandfather John remarks that “Flamboyance with condiments smacks of depravity”. Exhibiting an arsenal of colourful and cutting insults, Sheridan has a distinctive voice – and he’s not afraid to mince his words.

There are however some peculiarities which cannot easily be attributed to the constructed weirdness of this world. The boy we meet in the opening scenes walks around in the middle of winter wearing only pants, wellingtons and a vest, looking more like a poor imitation of Stig of the Dump than a convincingly hard-done by child. Although brought up by his grandparents, Oscar at 10, 12 and finally at 14 is remarkably high functioning for a child deprived of love, money and much cultural stimulation. There are also two cameo roles, both played by Laurence Mitchell, and are eerily similar homosexual characters that lurk around one Manchester canal. These characters are interesting, but neither seems to further the story as much as we perhaps expect them to. With striking similarities between the two scenarios, we crave a little more symbolic suggestion or explanation to make their contribution to the characters’ development more decipherable.

Sheridan is a young playwright and, at times, Winterlong seems a young play. His is a voice that’s worth watching out for however, and his vision is undeniably unique. Winterlong may not deliver all that it promises, but it’s worth betting that Sheridan’s future work will.

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