Back Down is part of The Last Word festival, which describes itself as a “festival of spoken word, live performance and storytelling”, and has been touring since February. The festival explores a combination of plays, modern poetry and other artistic platforms to reach out to a young audience. Back Down is also Steven Camden’s (aka Polarbear’s) first written play, after establishing himself as a spoken word artist. The target for this modern piece is clearly the younger viewers, to encourage them to be excited about performance art.
The Roundhouse is a fantastic venue for modern theatre. From the outside it almost replicates a contemporary imitation of The Globe, displaying how the traditional can also be mirrored by introducing theatre to our current society. Back Down is performed in the Studio Theatre, a very large room with ample performance space and great seating. It feels as though the action would be caught in any area of the room, and with a piece as direct as this one, it allows the audience to be able to listen to the story without limitations. The whole venue oozes a trendy nature, meaning that it is a very appropriate space for this style of performance.
Back Down is the coming-of-age story of three lads who spend their last few days together on an epic adventure to climb Mount Snowden, before they all part ways and start new chapters in their lives. From the beginning there’s a set-up something along the lines of Skins meets The Inbetweeners, as the boys are naturally messing around and comfortably bonding, chatting and playing with a football. It builds a unity between the actors and the audience immediately, as I found myself enjoying just watching them in a natural state, as well as looking forward to the story that was about to be told.
Camden has written the piece with direct address, which can be challenging to pull off, and unfortunately seems so at times. The boys start strongly, and with a vast use of space and set, it is clear that the cast can really see the characters they are talking about or to, who aren’t visibly present to the audience. The characters are likeable, relatable and pretty watchable. Lawrence Walker stands out as having a natural presence on stage and I found myself watching him a lot of the time. However, the delivery of some lines is quite questionable at times. I understand that they are replicating the Brummie accent, but unfortunately some of the truth gets lost in the intonation of the accent. Similarly to The Inbetweeners, the cast is quite optimistic in terms of playing age. They state at one point that they are 18 and that Luke (Walker) is about to head off to university, but it feels at times as if they are trying quite hard to show that they are just ‘young lads’. It may have been effective to show a difference in playing age from when the boys are talking to the audience, to when they are replicating the story; this would allow for a more ‘characterised’ version of their younger selves, as it is a story told through their own interpretation. This would also enable the audience to understand that this is an epic story that the boys tell, which unite themselves in the future, despite going separate ways. Saying this, I mostly found the performance very engaging.
The storyline isn’t particularly hard-hitting, but in terms of the demographic, it’s very relatable and likeable. The language used is very modern and easy for an audience to follow. There are definitely moments of humour throughout the piece, but unfortunately some of the jokes are either taken a little too far and miss the laughter, or are lost completely. It’s unclear whether this is specifically due to writing or delivery, but the show seems promising – it just needs to be tightened a little in order to really hit the right moments. It is perfect for aspiring theatregoers who are looking for a light and easy entrance into theatre.
Back Down is playing at The Roundhouse until 24 May. For more information and tickets, see The Roundhouse website.