The bizarrely named Winter of Our Discotheque was the first play by writer, Tess Humphrey, and is currently showing at RADA Studios on Chenies Street. It is an exploration of self-harm, addiction & abuse, set against the backdrop of a notorious (but, thankfully, fictional) public school. Laurie has been expelled from Eton, and The Hastings is the only place that will take him – thanks to his arson & criminal damage offences… He rooms with Alex, and through him meets Head Girl, Mama (real name Agatha).
Initially, Laurie seems like the typical nerdy teenager, and you can’t possibly imagine him committing such serious crimes – especially as he refuses to drink alcohol because he’s still only 17. But as he becomes the target for many of the school’s terrible ‘sports’ (they’ve not had an Etonian there since the late 19th century, after all), it all becomes too much for him and old patterns of behaviour start to emerge. Add to this the toxic influence of Alex, in particular, and the situation starts to become extremely volatile indeed.
The three friends all end up suffering at the hands of their mental health, to the point that they even contemplate suicide – Laurie believes it’s inevitable for him, whether he wants it or not. His problems stem from a particularly traumatic period in his life, and are exacerbated by him not being able to express his true self. Alex loses his older brother, spiralling into grief & using a growing drug habit as an outlet. Mama eventually buckles under the strain of trying to look after the boys. And, in this story, their class & the ways of the aristocracy are what really fail them – whereas for many people with similar issues (including the writer), it is the system that fails them.
Humphrey’s script manages to entertain as well as provoke serious thought. It does veer off a little unexpectedly towards the end, but once you have a moment to really digest it you can see how it all comes together.
Obviously, for this production, the team are working with limited resources – though it would be good if some of the transitions between scenes were a little quicker or less involved, as the audience is left in partial darkness for quite a while sometimes. The tech design (Roma Brown) shows real promise, with a highlight being the contrast of the effects of Laurie’s prescribed medication on both Laurie & Alex alongside each other. There is good use of lighting to highlight the affected party, with associated sound effect & music to make it absolutely clear what is happening.
Lily Cooper portrays Mama expertly, starting off all confidence & bluster – though it soon becomes clear that this is a mask. Cooper shows the mask gradually slip as Mama’s vulnerable side emerges under the stress.
Charlie Field (Alex) is a natural comedian, delivering his lines in a very off-hand (& so extremely authentic) manner. Alex represents the worst of his kind and thus you never quite feel for him, despite his loss & obvious problems – but Field’s performance makes him an entertaining watch, with some scene stealing one-liners.
Laurie is something of a enigma; George Grey plays this to absolute perfection. To start with you are inclined to laugh at what he says, but it soon becomes no laughing matter as the audience begins to see what he is capable of – and through no real fault of his own. His recounting of how his problems all started is affecting, as well as shocking. Grey is an exceptional talent, and we will doubtless see much more of him in the future.
My verdict? A thought-provoking, yet entertaining, black comedy that highlights very real issues – catch it if you can.
Winter of Our Discotheque runs at RADA Studios until 14 June 2016. Tickets are available online and on the door.