Greg, a thirteen-year-old school boy, is on the cusp of his birthday and becoming a man. From fumbling with girls to stealing newspapers in the hope of making some quick cash to watch his dream team Liverpool FC play, his whole life is to play for, and who knows where it will take him. Luke Barnes’ new play, Bottleneck, is a punchy one-man show premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s comical, tragic and gets to the heart of Liverpool life in 1989.
As the young f**k-spitting Greg, a cocky young innocent, James Cooney holds his own, hitting this 60-minute show with force. It’s a strong piece from Barnes, produced under the team at HighTide Festival, and it’s clear why he is hailed as an emerging writer. Within minutes Bottleneck has the audience laughing, but by the end there’s a tear to be shed when we realise what Bottleneck is about, and the full scale of the tragic situation that Greg and his friend find themselves in becomes apparant. A powerful play that packs a punch.
Exploring the themes of friendship and acceptance, Bottleneck is a coming of age story set in the heart of Liverpool, with Cooney portraying a series of characters revolving around Greg. A subtle shift of character, with clear direction from Steven Atkinson, sees him move between playing a forceful father, Greg’s best friend Tom, and teenage girls (completely alien to him, and mostly smelling of cheese). It can be hard to keep the energy of a one-man show when demands of characters are put upon you, but Cooney suffers from none of that, making Bottleneck a joy to watch.
Yet it’s not the rugged coming of age story that sits at the heart of this play (spoiler alert) but the tragic incident of overcrowding at Hillsborough, where 96 people were killed and a further 200 injured. Caught in the crushing vice of people wedged into two pens watching football, Bottleneck turns its story with force. Barnes’ lyrical words are replaced with coldness and realisation, and whilst it may not quite keep its momentum throughout, there is skill and a chilling tone that leaves its mark.
**** – 4/5 Stars
Bottleneck is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard until 27th August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website.