Leather is a story we’ve all seen in a Hollywood movie: some drugs are hidden in something innocent looking – like a leather sofa – and said something is stolen. Unwittingly those drugs were stolen from some form of evil mob boss who is out to punish the thieves who think they’ve only stolen sofas. This story works because it’s a Hollywood kind of thrilling, so already Leather is definitely watchable. It should have a wide appeal. Why, then, is the auditorium nowhere near full? It’s not of wholly original origins, but Dean Graham’s writing is intelligent, informed, and funny; Leather is one of the finalists in the International Student Drama Festival and deserves a bigger audience than the one I sat in. So to begin this interview, I entreat you to take a punt on new writing, be surprised.
I certainly was. For a start, there’s not what I’d call a Hollywood happy ending. Also I don’t expect sex-addicted gangsters to go to self-help groups. Graham’s play is delightfully quirky and communicates its ideas succinctly. I’m still asking myself why Timo (Jack Bruce) was topless and wearing a cowboy hat other than the obvious reason that he’s nice to look at (there’s no other way to say it). It must be why he’s there, because in that awful New Zealand (more like Australian?) accent, and constantly running his rushed lines together, I can hardly understand a word he says.
The rest of the cast are an improvement (minus Amy Szypusz as Venia who just cries too much). Gaius (Jimmy Morehouse) is very likeable as Venia’s well meaning boyfriend, and Danny Ridealgh is hilarious in small roles but pulling extreme faces (his hyperactivity toes the line of being irritating but doesn’t cross it). Martyn Horner-Glister, however, has a gift of a part as Boss – or is the part gifted by his performance? Either way, this is Graham’s writing at it’s best; a complex character that’s quickly established, with meaty, intelligent speeches. And Horner-Glister exudes the presence and charisma of the leader of the pack – his rhetoric is excellent. Leather is about need; artificial need which is created, like the need for drugs, or our natural needs for love and sex, and Horner-Glister is the only one who comes across hungry. He has speeches that I want to devour and if all Graham’s characters were written this well then this play would be on a whole other level.
Director Dean Graham lifts the play closer to achieving its potential. The leather sofa is present at the centre of every scene, linking the characters in a strangely sinister way. The more sexual connotations of leather crossed with the actors skulking around the stage with tights on their head creates a heady, dimly lit atmosphere. You feel as if you’re prying into the underground, private lives of this group of people. As if their needs make them deviants, when as Boss says, they’re only human.
Leather is a thought provoking play, with an exciting storyline and animalistic direction. But the words themselves, nor half the cast, aren’t able to grab you and will you to think about the play. It feels as if Leather is only half way there.
*** – 3/5 stars
Leather plays at C Nova until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe Website.