“Oozes a quality that is rare and valuable”
There’s a lovely tradition at the Fringe whereby all companies performing at a certain venue are permitted “standby” tickets to other shows at that venue: once all paying ticket holders have been admitted, any empty seats are then up for grabs – if there are any. For this performance Underbelly companies didn’t just fill the few empty seats: staff were frantically laying out two extra rows at the back to cope with a level of demand I’ve never seen before. Within about 10 seconds of the performance starting, I could understand the hype.
As is so achingly trendy at the moment, Growing Pains is written like a performance poem, with rhyme and rhythm, ridiculously clever wordplay, and a lot of witticism. It’s brutal, honest and unflinching in its portrayal of a young man growing up on an estate in Salford and wanting to make it as an actor. Energy is red raw from the get go and you can tell this is going to be an intense and emotional hour.
Central character Tom introduces his friends, portraying each with clear physicality and accent, and we get to laugh at their banter and endeavours to get served at the local pub while underage. Later on we see those same friends grown-up, stuck in a rut and stifled in small-town mentality that Tom so desperately longs to break away from.
Tom Gill gives absolutely everything in this production – from emotive, heart-wrenching pleas to his dad, amusing turns as his Caribbean neighbour and a posture-perfect well-heeled yuppie, to more puns on London tube stations than you can count and a stripped back and haunting break-up scene with an ex-girlfriend: it really is a one man tour-de-force. For me, it’s 2016’s Johnny Bevan.
Oh, and it’s also a musical. With poetic lyricism that effortlessly floats in and out of song it only seems right to blend the two, and it just works. Not in a corny, musical theatre I’m-just-going-to-burst-into-song kind of way, but in a genuine expression of music being the only way for Tom to be able to communicate what’s going on in his head. It’s funny. moving, and incredibly well performed.
However, it’s not perfect – there are several odd little skips, jumps and glossings over within the narrative that could be made clearer or more cleverly interwoven without the need to go to a blackout – but everything about it oozes a quality that is rare and valuable and definitely worth buying a ticket to. Just ask anyone else doing a show at Underbelly.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 August)