Joint winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Award, Andrew Sheridan's Winterlong has come to Soho Theatre after its premiere in Manchester. We admire the verve of the judges who chose above others this raw black gem about growing up in a loveless world.
Sheridan's play is an uncompromising tour of a hell where the milk of human kindness comes skimmed: couples grow old together in emotionally sterile solitude or live fast and loose in sado-masochistic co-dependence while neighbourhood paedophiles and opportunistic rapists stalk the parks and streets masquerading as friendly strangers. At the centre of this maelstrom of cruelty, we explore the early life of Oscar as he grows up in the care of his grandparents.
Sheridan mercilessly goes for the throat at every occasion, challenging the audience to find a scrap of empathy for characters who are mentally or morally perpendicular to societal norms. There is strong language throughout in every sense: there is plenty of swearing (up to and including the c-word) seasoning the script but this is leavened with graphic lyrical imagery and fast and fluid dialogue.
Harry McEntire is totally convincing as the young child Oscar who is old beyond his years and whose direct take on his world is unerring and unnerving. Paul Copley and Gabrielle Reidy are superb as the grandparents devoid of sentiment for each other and Oscar.
Make no mistake: this is a bleak work which will divide opinions in much the same way as Sarah Kane's Blasted and Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking. The hardcore nature of the play will no doubt appall some of the audience but there's an entire street of West End musicals metres from the Soho Theatre for those who find this slice of vicious inverse verite too much to stomach. For those theatregoers looking for something dark and spiky, this may be just the ticket.
Winterlong is at the Soho Theatre until 12 March. Strong language throughout with occasional male nudity. More information and tickets can be found here.
The 2011 Bruntwood award is looking for new plays. Roll up, roll up.