Review: Something For The Winter

Something for the Winter may seem like an odd title for a play focused on last August’s riots, but as this adaptation from The Bridge Theatre unfolds to reveal a young couple determined to plan out their baby’s first year, the work balances a scene of forethought and maturity against an event charged with impulsiveness. Seasons change, meaning our actions have consequences and, like a pane of glass shattered in front of a trainer store, these narratives splinter and cut, reflecting very different elements of the story of last summer’s riots.

Contrasts drive this charged piece by an exceptionally talented collective of graduates from the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Informed by the performers’ thoughts and anxieties surrounding the riots, Deborah Gearing’s script is a heady collage of attitudes. Reluctant to settle and provide a comfortable perspective from which to view London’s state of agitation, the piece fitfully swerves between moods and viewpoints.

While some of the scene changes seem slightly too functional, the cast responds well to the broad spectrum of emotion demanded by Gearing’s piece. Through body language that just bleeds anxiety, Zara Oram brings a certain active confinement to the part of the neurotic Celine, a barricaded-in victim of the riots who declares herself a prisoner in her own house.

In powerful contrast to this vulnerability, Jake Davies reinterprets the rioter as a callous jester called Kane. Dancing in a stolen nurse’s uniform that is mysteriously speckled in blood, Kane has an air of A Clockwork Orange’s Alex about him. Unresponsive to the protests of others and emotionally deadened, he is a true master of manipulation. As a carer’s uniform clothes a villain, and a helium balloon hovers in the air around a ritual of humiliation and recreational gang violence, Something for the Winter depicts a city turned sour.

Within the Southwark Playhouse, the company has found the perfect setting for this claustrophobic tale. Water from the overhead tunnels drips onto designer Catherine Baines’s simplistic yet symbolically-charged set. Various basic pieces of furniture populate the stage, next to dislocated window frames and – bizarrely – packing peanuts, which spill across the floor. The domestic setting becomes a fragile, isolated inner box, brought to the boil by news reports that constantly roll on two television sets.

Throughout, the actors deliver fierce, amplified performances, which dance on the fragile border between passion and aggression. There are, however, two moments that stand out. The first is a wired monologue from Roy, a London firefighter, delivered with raw flair by Robert Glaser. Sharply spitting out casual slang and angry poetry, Roy is no Disney hero, and through this character the piece takes time to linger over the complexity of good and evil. As the noise from the TV sets floods the stage, casting its own villains and heroes, Glaser provides an essential reminder of our media’s inadequacies.

Excitable teen Steph (Anuschka Rapp) also delivers a deeply enriching monologue, making the riots sound nothing less than sexy. With energetic, passionate delivery she describes streets that are ‘running with adrenaline’. Her sentences are short and pressing, pulling together images with a troubling vibrancy as “a rush of swarming boys” make her desperate to be part of the event. At times like this, youth culture knots into the thrill of knowing that something significant is happening in London.

Nine months after the riots, we live in a city that still bears scars. As it captures the thrill and danger of youth culture, Something for the Winter is a tangled and scruffy piece, which boldly articulates the lessons learnt from last summer. On the surface, we see friends and acquaintances engaged in ordinary behaviour, attempting to conduct their day-to-day routines. Below this lurks something darker, as warped undercurrents of pure menace pull at the characters. Through this layering, The Bridge Theatre captures the surprise of a city, urgently reminding us that we’re not quite ready to forget last summer.