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A CurtainUp London Review
Christmas is Miles Away
by Neil Dowden
Although the script sets the action very precisely in the years 1989-91 in Manchester, the timing seems pretty immaterial -- it's true that the first Gulf War is mentioned (or rather implied) later on but it could just as easily be the present conflict in Iraq - so that the in-between scenes music from the seminal 1989 album by The Stone Roses seems rather tagged on. But the downbeat colloquial humour is certainly Mancunian, and, yes, there is one scene with the background sound of trademark rain pouring down from the north-west England skies.
At the outset we see best mates Christie (David Judge) and Luke (Paul Stocker) camping out near a lake on the outskirts of the city, drinking lager and bantering about girls, music, travelling and girls. At 16 they are about to leave school, so anything seems possible, but their dreams of the future are matched by fears of what may -- or may not -- happen. The apparently more sensitive and vulnerable Christie is about to go to art college, whereas the boisterously cocksure Luke is toying with the idea of joining the army.
But the extremely close bond is loosened (unwittingly) by Christie's new girlfriend Julie (Georgia Taylor), of whom Luke is jealous as Christie now confides more in her than him, especially after his father's death. As the two lads drift apart it turns out that Luke, who has done his best to comfort his friend in his own clumsy way, is the one who reaches the end of his emotional tether after becoming a soldier, while Christie is unable to help him.
Directed with assurance by Sarah Frankcom, this rites of passage play convincingly depicts the doubts and uncertainties of adolescence, the discovery of love and sex, and the struggle to understand feelings and how to express them. There are some amusing moments early on - such as when Luke discovers Julie in Christie's bed, the only scene where all three are present - but the mood progressively darkens. It has to be said that a little bit of teenage angst can go a long way, and the play would benefit from being cut slightly as it does drag at times.
David Judge's Christie is self-centred rather than selfish, becoming so preoccupied with his artistic and musical interests that he fails to see what is happening to Luke or Julie. Paul Stocker gives an outstanding performance as Luke, laconic wit later giving way to bruised world-weariness, as he discovers how brutal life can be. Georgia Taylor's Julie is a sympathetic presence, trying to act as a go-between but caught in the crossfire. It's a cruel coming of age.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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