Samuel Bailey’s 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize winning play is revived for digital audiences.
Last seen at the Southwark Playhouse in 2019 and due to have a run at the Trafalgar Studios last year until the pandemic changed plans drastically, Bailey’s angry play is given new life in this filmed version.
Shook follows three inmates at the youth offenders institution who are on their way to becoming fathers and undergoing some teaching about how to be parents. Along the way it sees them each confronting the way in which they can move forward in their lives and break the cycle of violence that has led them to this point.
Bailey’s writing is raw, with a lot of rough language used in order to convey the frustrations and fears that all of the characters face. Cain is the most angry of them all (too much so in some places that it can be overwhelming) about not having home or family to go to after gets out, Riyad wants to be able to support his family so is doing a maths G.C.S.E, while Jonjo is trying to keep his head down and who is ended up inside after losing his temper with severe consequences. Each character is developed nicely – with the calmer moments as they discuss themselves proving to be the stronger moments.
Initially it feels as though there is too much anger, too much shouting to really have much of an impact and therefore is distracting from the story, that psychologically analyses each of their coping mechanisms for dealing with being at the youth offenders institution. However, it begins to settle down more after the arrival of Grace, who is teaching the parenting class – a calming, thoughtful and encouraging presence.
Directed with great focus by George Turvey, Shook is a tightly wound production that lashes out when the audience is least expecting it, capturing the frustrations and fears of each of the characters. In particular, after Cain receives a letter that could help with the time he is in the youth offenders and Ryad reads it out, the pain of when he explains how the youth offenders institution is the only home he knows is particularly intense.
The audience is consistently given a strong understanding of just how deeply in despair the characters are about their futures. It would have been interesting to find out more about why each of the characters are inside – but of course the key question is how do they find a break in the cycle of violence that seems to have affected their lives. There are no easy answers it is made clear.
All of the performances deliver the emotional complexities of their characters with insight and depth. In particular, Josh Finan as Cain offers plenty of swagger and aggression with great energy initially, before going deeper emotionally to show his vulnerability. Josef Davies as Jonjo is an understated presence and gives particularly vulnerable performance that is easy for the audience to engage with, while Ivan Oyik as Riyad offers a level headed and powerful performance that binds all the characters together. Andrea Hall as Grace really makes an impact in the quieter moments – as seen with her conversation late on with Riyad encouraging him to go to college.
Overall, Shook is a powerful piece of drama, but it could tone down on the anger somewhat to really give even sharper focus on the issues raised. This said, it features four compelling performances from a cast who bring the characters to life vividly in a production that is brilliantly and tightly focused.
By Emma Clarendon
Shook is available to watch until the 28th March.