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A CurtainUp London London Review

I really don't like you. I hate myself for hating you and then I hate you more for making me hate myself. I look at you and I feel sick. My stomach feel's sick. You make my whole body feel sick. — John
Straight from its run at the Royal Exchange Manchester, Andrew Sheridan's haunting and darkly comic play, Winterlong, transfers to the Soho Theatre London. This is an excellent piece of new writing and is a shining example of the talent that is sought through the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. The production is sharp, slick, harrowing and even at times insanely funny.

The play revolves around a young boy, Oscar, who is given up by his teenage mother and father and placed in the care of his grandparents; a seemingly cold and neurotic grandmother and a grand father who hates the very sight of him. The story follows his journey from toddler to adolescence showing how his life affects those around him, and how they all seem to be tumbling towards destruction, with only Oscar, innocent and full of dreams, fit for survival.

Set in a semi-timeless working class northern town suggestively close to Manchester, we see a world that is forever in a place of winter discontent. Sheridan's play is a very grim view of the world. Yet in all the shattered glass of misery we are often treated to a glimpse of hope, usually via the character of Oscar. Each scene is weirdly and cleverly almost self-contained and each holds a story of Oscar's life. In every scene the audience is brought into a sense of optimism and security but each time it gets inevitably shattered to pieces by brutal language and disturbing imagery that really challenges our tolerances. Full of blatant metaphor and intrusive language, Winterlong doesn't hold back. In the midst of all this distressing dialogue, however, Sheridan's writing can be extremely funny and nostalgic. This really cements his ability and talent at drawing the audience close and then, again and again, shocking them into submission.

The performances all round were superb. Harry McEntire's Oscar is an exquisite and brave performance. McEntire succeeds in keeping Oscar firmly in reality even when he is surrounded by such a distorted world full of equally twisted characters. Eloquent and sympathetic, McEntire is a very good young actor with a very bright future. It is an excellent ensemble performance with a cast including Paul Copley as John (Grandfather), Gabrielle Reidy as Jean (Grandmother), Laurence Mitchell and Rebecca Callard. All the cast are seemingly in touch with a distinct rhythm that runs throughout the piece. Side by side with the contorted nature of the play we are attacked as an audience often with verbal diarrhoea, which is at times, deeply challenging.

The production doesn't particularly shine on aesthetic grounds. Amanda Stoodley's set is rather ugly and cluttered which often proves distracting, and Richard Owen's lighting is quite basic but functional. These are minor faults and Sarah Frankcom's production is both evocative and memorable. It will stick in the mind for days to come, even if you are not quite sure why.

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Written by Andrew Sheridan
Directed by Sarah Frankcom

Starring: Harry McEntire, Rebecca Callard, Paul Copley, Laurence Mitchell, Gabrielle Reidy
Design: Amanda Stoodley
Lighting: Richard Owen
Sound: Peter Rice
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes including a 15 minute interval
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking to 12th March 2011
Produced by Richard Morgan
Reviewed by Tim Newns based on 28th February 1011 performance at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE

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