Theatre Review: Burnt Oak – Life And Death In London Town

Laurence Lynch with members of the cast

Laurence Lynch is a bit of a character and his debut play is full of them. Admittedly autobiographical, it portrays a working class family on an estate in Burnt Oak – the sort that cabs won’t go to and young women shouldn’t walk about solo after dark.

The family unit is part Royle Family, part Shameless, part Eastenders and all familiar. Dad George is an unemployed ex-con, with a smoking, drinking and gambling habit, Mum Margaret is the long suffering grafter and housewife with a heart full of love and a life of disappointment and leggy daughter Susan is a princess-trainee-hairdresser who can do no wrong. Well, until she gets knocked up by trainee painter and decorator Nobby, that is.

Lynch has a gift for dialogue. The play opens with the half cut, sexed up, late night flirting between Susan and Nobby, about to get it on on the family sofa. The family banter bounces around like a slap in the face, and the repartee between Nobby and his work mate, Terry, is quick and comic – from the latter, delightfully deadpan.

The audience laugh along at the wit and quickness of exchanges, sometimes missing, sometimes forgiving cruel overtones. These are conversations heard hundreds of times and reproduced perfectly here by a committed and convincing cast.

However, the sense of menace established from the start – it’s billed as a ‘thriller’ for one thing, and you just know something’s going to muck up the (largely) innocent teen romance between Susan and Nobby – never really materialises. Things go wrong, sure, but in a humdrum domesticated sort of way. Whilst Louis Cardona is an excellent wide-eyed Nobby – a self-made young man and a survivor of the care system at that, his character’s breakdown seems all too rapid and severe to be believed. Likewise, whilst George is a nasty piece of work, his final act just doesn’t seem credible.

Lynch compares writing a play to doing a “giant jigsaw puzzle“. In which case, it feels a bit like although he got all the outer bits right he lost some pieces, left some holes and got some bits in the wrong places.

There are some really brilliant, warm and funny moments in Burnt Oak and the cast and direction are great, making the most of the tiny performance space in Leicester Square Theatre’s Lounge. If the play itself is patchy and comes to an unsatisfying conclusion, it more than makes up for it in its on the nail portrayal of a dysfunctional family striving to function.

Burnt Oak: Life and Death in London Town is at Leicester Square Theatre until 3 September. Tickets £12.50/£15.

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