Review: Bottleneck at Hope Street Theatre

By Nigel Smith

LUKE Barnes’ play Bottleneck was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012 and swiftly transferred to Soho Theatre and then touring early the following year. This revival, directed by Chantell Walker, is its first appearance in its spiritual home of Liverpool.

It’s the mid-1980s. Greg lives on a Liverpool council estate with his dad, and as he approaches his 15th birthday he tries to get to grips with the realities of the world around him. Amidst the total mysteries of life, the one certainty for Greg is his love of football and LFC, and if he does nothing else on his birthday his heart is set on following his team to a cup semi-final that coincides with the day he intends to become a man.

He and his Evertonian best mate Tom manage to secure a pair of tickets for the game and despite being grounded by his dad they head off to Yorkshire, toward events that will mean the world is never the same again.

Barnes’ writing is vibrant and spiky, full of the naivety and expectations of youth. More than half of the play’s unbroken span carries us along on the turbulent tide of Greg’s adolescence, and the ebb and flow of comedy and soul searching is hugely engaging. Then, with a single word “Sheffield” the tone of the piece shifts, as the audience discover where he is headed and the potential consequences of the journey.

The text is something of a Mount Everest for a single actor to scale, but Daniel Cassidy is more than a match for the task. Under the direction of Chantell Walker he maintains a perfect balance throughout. From the comedy of the first section, which lulls us into a false sense of security, to the mounting terror of the latter half, he never allows the tension to lapse. As the wide eyed innocence of youth gives way to chilling horror, his character grows up a lot faster than he can ever have imagined.

Enclosed almost claustrophobically in Hope Street Theatre’s intimate space, the staging heightens the conspiratorial nature of the storytelling. We’re given a window into Greg’s private space as he talks about his dysfunctional family, his bewilderment with girls and his passion for the beautiful game. But as he finds himself separated from his friend, pressed into the bottleneck of a fateful spring afternoon, Cassidy’s electrifying delivery holds the audience in a stunned breathlessness.

Toward the close, the silence in the theatre is broken only by audible sobbing.

Bottleneck is produced by Hiding Place Theatre Company

@HidingPlaceTC @hopestreettheatre