As a Liverpool fan, this reviewer must admit that he had a vested interest in seeing this play. Few subjects pull at the heartstrings quite so much as the Hillsborough tragedy, so it was with morbid curiosity that I sat down to watch Luke Barnes' Bottleneck at the Soho Theatre.
The play follows the trials and tribulations of Greg, a football obsessed teenager growing up in the Boot Estate in Liverpool during the late eighties. Greg is at that awkward age where he's not quite a child, but not yet a man. His understanding of masculinity has thus far revolved almost exclusively around John Mclane and the prospect of having a moustache. He has awkward fumblings with girls whilst attempting to earn enough money by hook or by crook, to go watch his beloved Liverpool FC.
James Cooney's performance as Greg is nothing short of superb, he convincingly portrays the barely controlled aggression, energy and confusion that comes with being a teenager. As he bounces off the walls and runs around the stage for an hour, he keeps the play compelling through his impressions of the other characters in his life, his father and his best friend Tom. Barnes' script is brilliant in its nuances, exploring themes of social deprivation and adolescent sexuality, whilst remaining witty and sincere.
The title evokes several layers of meaning; but perhaps the most salient of which is the notion that we are all trapped within the binds and limitations of our upbringing. Growing up in an area of social decline, Greg finds it difficult to escape his origins and thus becomes part a bottleneck, as he, alongside many others in his position, struggle to find a way out. And when the sport that Greg identifies himself with and uses to escape from reality turns into a horrifying nightmare, there is little solace left in his life. The narrative progresses from the humorous idealism that adolescence brings to the bitter and angry acceptance of adulthood.
Rather than being the standard coming-of-age tale that you're perhaps expecting for the first forty minutes, Bottleneck evolves into an angry and powerful piece about a life that is scarred in an instant. An incredibly emotive and beautifully written play.