After a successful Edinburgh Fringe run, ThickSkin’s production of The Static is touring the country with its high-energy tale of young love and the difficulties of being a teenager.
The core conceit is beautifully executed. When 15-year-old Sparky, whose school years have been hugely disrupted by his ADHD, meets a girl named Siouxsie in detention, she tells him she is there because she used her psychic abilities to push a girl down the stairs. What follows feels like a re-imagining of Roald Dahl’s Matilda for the Facebook generation, in which disenfranchised teenagers are able to empower themselves through their hitherto undiscovered psychokinetic abilities.
Sparky and Siouxsie’s burgeoning love story is played with great realism and sensitivity by Brian Vernel (Stage Award-nominated for this performance in Edinburgh) and Samantha Foley. Vernel in particular emanates jerky energy as the restless Sparky, while Foley gives great depth to the outward defiance and inner turmoil of a young girl who thinks she has murdered her baby step-sister simply by willing it.
The Static also has a slightly less engaging subplot, involving Sparky’s teacher, Mrs. Kelly. Though well-played by Pauline Lockhart, it doesn’t quite sit with the play’s larger arc and feels a bit tangential at times. It’s nice to see them giving a behavioural teacher some exploration beyond her interactions with Sparky, but it doesn’t feel fully integrated with the play’s driving plot.
Davey Anderson’s script, though well-written, does seem a little thin on the ground at times, but this is almost irrelevant; what is most notable about ThickSkin’s production is its more experimental elements. There are movement sections so tightly choreographed that one feels Neil Bettles must have rehearsed his cast to within an inch of their lives – it is impossibly slick, at times jaw-droppingly so.
The set is comprised of just two moveable blocks of lockers, chairs and a desk, but through sound and projection and sheer inventiveness they become schoolrooms, bedrooms and the rooftops of buildings. This use of set is so clever, in fact, that it is almost distracting! The amount of projection comes close to feeling gratuitous at one or two points but it is generally extremely well-utilised, with the play’s audio-visual elements supporting and extending the on-stage action by giving us a glimpse of Sparky’s troubled mindset.
There are times during The Static when it feels as if there isn’t quite enough plot to fill the hour – but you would have to be hard-hearted not to enjoy something that has been directed and performed with such inventiveness, love and talent. This is physical theatre with real flair.
The Static played at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, until October 20th and continues its tour at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool and Contact in Manchester. The full tour dates can be found here: http://www.thickskintheatre.co.uk/tickets.html