Tucked into the corner of Aikmans’ cellar which according to a passing cast member was “literally the worst seat”, I was treated to People You Know Productions’ latest export: Rat Race. Written by Catherine Barrie and directed by Daisy Patterson, the immersive drama provided an intense, revolting, in-your-face, commentary on the toxic ‘survival of the fittest’ culture that pervades the ‘lad’s night out’.
People You Know are no stranger to the un-conventional performance space; in my review of their previous production I hailed their innovation. This piece was no different. With the creaking of the ceiling along with the guffawing of upstairs ricocheting down the stairwell, I found myself looking at my drinkless table to remind myself I wasn’t on a Friday night out. That said, I hope I wouldn't hang out with the motley crew of men placed centre-stage or rather centre-cellar.
The plot is admittedly simple and yet the production went beyond these parameters. Dylan returns from the army to see his old friends in their home town for a catch up and a few (many) pints. The group, high off a game of poker, descend into a bitter game of ‘who has it best?’ to dire consequences.
Sacha Murray Threipland’s Dylan was a triumph, becoming a seedy, vicious man hell-bent on making jibes at Jack. Murray Threipland's diction was particularly impressive under the thick London accent. The somewhat troubled Jack was equally well-performed by Freddie Lawson, who rose from feeble to nasty following endless trips to the bar, morphing into his rival Danny. The supporting cast including Finn played by Buster van der Geest, Paul by Max Fryer, Mickey by Matthew McCaffrey, Beth by Lexie Dykes, and John by Fred Strange, must also be applauded.
Barrie’s writing is highly commendable; the script was infused with masculine references to wild buffalos on Planet Earth and to put it lightly, unfortunate and bizarre incidents including puppies and poo. Barrie is adept at writing characters you will encounter in your life, they are gritty, senseless, and yet equally un-real. I think the scripts’ greatest achievement was indeed its bizarre dialogue which cultivated an illusion of what you overhear in a pub combined with what was actually said. Lines came at the audience head-on, with resounding “eurghs” filling the room.
Patterson’s direction was of equal praise, using the breadth of Aikman’s cellar to ensure her actors were in your face: the audience looking on with trepidation for fear the actors might start a fight with them. I particularly admired her subtle direction of the rather mute Dykes who roamed around the periphery of the table, standing in the shadows of the men. This touch added an intricacy to an intense piece.
While the production was not without merit, at points I found myself asking the question: ‘is this the middle class view on the working class?’ Crisps in mouth, lager in hand, and overzealous rough London accents left a strange taste in my mouth. The cliche reference to ‘Blackpool’ also left me wondering when the piece would eventually toe the line. It was at this point, I admittedly got lost on whether the play was a commentary on toxic masculinity or simply the working man’s culture. This is, of course, no discredit to the writing or direction itself but rather I wonder whether this play falls into the trap of fetishising the working class. Indeed, perhaps it was in the ‘gritty’ that the play wavered slightly.
Nonetheless, Rat Race joined People You Know’s library of innovative and commendable productions.
Photos by Emma Dalton