Winner of a 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, Luke Norris’s debut play is now co-produced with the Royal Exchange Theatre and is heading for a Manchester transfer later this month. It’s great to see this piece continuing to develop and receive wider audiences: while it’s very much a play of two halves – with varying success – there is a lot of heart and plenty of promise in this work about a group of young men on the brink of the rest of their lives.
On first impression, the group of four friends have a rather Inbetweeners-esque relationship: we have Pidge (Sam Melvin), the vulgar show-off; Dan (Ciarán Owens), the clever university graduate; Smudge (Dorian Jerome Simpson), the sweet but simple one; and Pugh (Mark Weinman), the one with the most sense. Yet unlike in The Inbetweeners, where crudeness wins the day, Norris’s script is peppered with a sharper and darker dialogue.
The final member of the men’s five-a-side team, Frankie, is dead. The others struggle to get to grips with the accident (or was it?) as they say their final goodbyes. Norris plays with humour in the saddest of circumstances, as the guys continue their banter and their bickering, arguing about who wrote Peter Pan (was it Walt Disney or Barry someone?), games of I Spy, and whether Smudge consumed four or five Scotch eggs at the wake. Norris’s script is delivered to comic perfection by the four leads, with Melvin (making a stand-out stage debut) getting some of the biggest laughs: “she’s got a face like a roofer’s kneepad”. Norris, the cast and director Steven Atkinson boldly and skilfully present the laughs and the tensions, the uncertainties and the insecurities of young male friendship.
Frankie’s girlfriend Kirsty (Jade Anouka) breaks into this tight circle, and at first it feels like a shame: her performance is uncharacteristically non-committal, and the show is at its strongest when the original four are together. However, Anouka comes into her own in the second half of the piece, as we flash back to Frankie’s (Daniel Kendrick) last day alive.
The first half of So Here We Are could stand alone as a short work. In general, the second is less satisfying: its formulaic nature, as Frankie visits each friend in turn, doesn’t give us much more than we have deduced already. Frankie and Kirsty’s relationship is explored further, but the play has lost much of its momentum and energy. Nevertheless, there is interesting exploration of ideas of belonging – Pidge’s belief that the place and its people are in your bones – and the rules of life: “play the game”, characters are frequently told.
Norris has created a genuinely funny play about grief, the bonds of friendship and moving on. The piece starts in a wonderful tone, although Norris takes it to a place where it ultimately loses some force. However, the cast is impressive in holding it together for a successful production that is well deserving of its transfer.
So Here We Are is playing at the Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall as part of the HighTide Festival until 20 September. The show transfers to the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, from 24 September-10 October. For tickets and more information, see the HighTide Festival website. Photo by Nobby Clark.