First published in The Times, Saturday March 31 2018
Jack Thorne’s monologue about a teenage girl who finds herself caught up in a revenge attack on a young Asian boy debuted in one of the dank, dark venues on the Cowgate at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010. Since then, the writer has gone on to script the West End and Broadway megahit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well as winning five BAFTA awards for his work on television dramas such as This is England and National Treasure.
Not every element sparkles in this earlier work. A couple of the asides in Katie’s story, while amusing, feel extraneous, disrupting the tension and interrupting the narrative flow. Nonetheless there is something compelling about the protagonist herself: a white girl from a fairly comfortable background, in her final year at school, bright and diligent and a clarinettist in the school orchestra. Compared to the male characters in the story, including her black boyfriend Abe and his friend, the cocky, intimidating Asif, both factory workers, Katie seems the epitome of middle-class privilege.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Yet, as Katie’s story unfolds, we increasingly see how this articulate young woman’s self-loathing runs so deep that it leads her almost unwittingly into the dark situation that forms the meat of the tale. Her witty misanthropy reduces virtually everyone around her, including her well-meaning, encouraging parents, to grotesques. Her powerlessness is horribly exposed in the scene in which Asif, having dispatched her boyfriend to buy his takeaway, instructs her to take her underwear off in the front seat of his car. Katie complies, only for Asif to immediately lose interest. “You’re too easy,” he says, turning away.
Katie lives, she tells us, with a simmering sense of what she calls suspense, though she prefers the instant rush of a surprise. There are plenty of both in Thorne’s script, even if the most satisfying moments lie in the play’s quieter dramatic encounters. The scene in which Katie comes face to face with the boy the group is pursuing, cowering in his bedroom, only to discover that even this scrawny youth has a crushing advantage over her, is especially poignant.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Anna Russell-Martin gives a captivating, nuanced performance in the Tron’s production, which is directed with a scrupulous attention to detail by Paul Brotherston. The simple staging in the round is exactly the right setting for Thorne’s play, the lack of bells and whistles keeping our attention squarely on the performance and the agonising build of tension in Katie’s story.