Tag Archives: Neil Bettles

Shockingly Good

Derby Theatre, Monday 24th September, 2012

This tight one-act play, performed by a versatile cast of four is jam-packed with ideas and inventiveness. This is the story of disaffected, unengaged and disruptive schoolboy Stephen, who insists on being called Sparky and on wearing a pair of headphones all day long. Because of his poor conduct in class and a diagnosis of ADHD, Sparky is sent to Behaviour Support Teacher, Mrs Kelly. Through a series of interview-like scenes, we learn about both of these characters. No one is without problems.

In detention one day, Sparky meets Siouxsie, a rebel with a bedroom painted black kind of girl who claims to have killed her stepsister. She explains the process of ‘cosmic ordering’ – a means of getting the universe to give you what you want by writing it down and waiting. (This is how Noel Edmonds reputedly returned to television. Be careful what you wish for.)

As the story unfolds we see that things are not what they seem. Siouxsie’s stepfather is the PE teacher. The stepsister fell prey to natural causes…

But then Sparky starts to develop a power of his own. He begins to move objects with his mind. He peeks at Siouxsie’s notebook and concludes Siouxsie, with whom he is infatuated, has plans to steal the PE teacher from her mother, and so he cosmically orders destruction on an apocalyptic scale.

This is a graphic novel performed live. It is stylish and slick, and full of teenage angst. The superpower aspect is a metaphor for burgeoning sexuality. It was especially pleasing to see the adult characters so well-rounded and not merely portrayed as two-dimensional authority figures.

The ensemble is a well-oiled machine, using physical and narrative theatre to depict scenes that would cost a fortune in CGI. There is a balletic moment when the teenagers first kiss that is exhilarating and beautiful.
Neil Bettle’s highly effective choreography is matched by the simple but versatile set design. Two banks of school lockers glides around, on them film clips are projected. Bettles is also the director – he could be a clockmaker, each component part works so perfectly with the rest.

As anti-hero Sparky, Brian Vernel has a cocky charisma. His emotional awakening is all the more of a shock to him. Samantha Foley’s Siouxsie is coquettish, intelligent and vulnerable. ‘Grown-ups ‘Pauline Lockhart and Nick Rhys remind us that adults and even teachers are humans too.

The audience, enjoying the show and the comfort of Derby Theatre’s newly upholstered seats (very plush!) was comprised of mainly students from schools and the university, and they certainly received the show with enthusiasm and interest. I think the play would appeal to a broader, more general audience – if they would only go to see it. It reminds the grown-ups that teenagers are humans too.

Playwright Davey Anderson tells us not to make connections between things that may not necessarily be linked. It is dazzlingly presented and also very funny. It’s touring the whole country – I urge you to spend an enjoyable hour watching it. ThickSkin is an up-and-coming theatre company I shall look out for again.