The things you can’t imagine that you could get on Silk Road outweigh even those you can. This deep dark web portal accessible only by TOR (even the login method sounds menacing) is where near anything illegal can be bought, sold and delivered. It’s a real frightening place. So it’s a shame then that Silk Road utiliaes something so complex and intriguing as mere scaffolding for a so-so tale of a down-on-his-luck youth selling drugs and suffering consequences.
This minimal one-man show follows James Baxter’s Bruce, an unemployed teen who buys drugs off Silk Road in an effort to make money, ingenuously using his Nan’s tea cosies as a distribution front. Baxter shines here, dominating the wide stage with a winning boyish charm and impressive depictions of the multiple characters populating Bruce’s tragic world. The characters themselves however often feel more caricature. His portrayal of his nan, for example, is another production line old biddy, whilst the wannabe mobster Shaggy, who has supposedly, “seen every gangster film”, is a complaint that arguably could be aimed at writer Alex Oates.
Talk of the website within its namesake play is disappointingly rare within the narrative itself. Rather information is clumsily interjected between story beats as Baxter snaps out of character and into omniscient lecturer of the contraband. These scenes are all very good, the place is a no doubt fascinating and every fact is a morsel to be savoured, it just would’ve been far more thematically satisfying if Silk Road itself was centralised to the plot in a more worthwhile manner.
With Baxter at its centre, Silk Road certainly has a lot going for it in the charisma department, an electric presence that brings the best out of the slightly soggy material. Such taboo subject matter shouldn’t be held in cotton wool; the show simply feels afraid to wade into the murky moral waters of an illegal international operation. We learn about the nomenclature and rules at its heart for sure, but are never really engaged in any debate to its nature and place within the world. For Bruce, the site is an online drug vendor, but Silk Road is so much more than that and not delving further is doing the potential of the idea a disservice.
Silk Road is at the Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.