Phil Fox founded the Outside Edge theatre in 1999. His aim? To create a safe and nurturing environment for those recovering from drug addiction. His involvement with the theatre saved his life and he hopes it can do the same to others as well. He wanted those inflicted with drug abuse, domestic violence and mental illness to use acting as a form of rehabilitation, to explore their issues and bring about a positive change. Rockton stories attempts to do just that.
With such a commendable objective in mind, you sit down in the audience really wanting to like the performance. But this would be an incredibly patronizing way to treat these people. It is the equivalent of patting a small child on the head when they hand you yet another badly drawn picture. The Rockston cast deserve much more than this.
It is a two-hour spectacle directed by Susie Miller. For her it is ‘a true collaboration and a wild extraordinary adventure.’ She sets her play in the atmospheric cabaret house of Hoxton Hall. The red velvet curtains obscure our view of the actors. Mahogany oak beams and stands are stacked to the ceiling where the actors suddenly appear from singing. It is a true theatre of grandeur, intimate and personal. The perfect setting for this tale of addiction to unfold. Victoria Johnstone’s set design is one of the most noteworthy assets to this production. Billows of coloured smoke roll from the stage into the audience, a piano sits on the edge playing out medleys and haunting tunes. This live music element really pulls in the focus, studding the two hours with toe tapping jaunts. In the backdrop there is a door raised above the stage where the working girls walk from, all to keep us captivated and alert. The homeless characters wander through the main doors of the auditorium and set next to you. They nudge you, asking for loose change. These are the worst extremes of addiction, the reality of which smacks into you like an oncoming four by four truck
But Miller’s plot is a meandering one. At times the acting is clumsy, the singing off key and the lines stumbled and murmured. But in retrospect, perhaps this is a metaphor in itself. The path of recovering from addition isn’t easy to follow or adhere to. It is ugly and at times labored. It is under rehearsed. If this was Miller’s intention, she has excelled herself.
Rockston Stories opens with the character Aphrodite, played confidently by Charon Bourke. She is the cabaret owner hooking the girls that work for her onto various drugs so that they won’t move on to better things. She needs them to keep her business afloat. She looks like Emcee from Cabaret, which is a nice nod the genre Rockston Stories tries to emulate. At first she is endearing, singing to the audience by the piano side and telling of her story of abandonment from her parents. But as the play progresses we see her brutality. She abuses the girls that disobey her rules and pushing drugs to those already addicted. She is a character whose motivation you can understand but not empathise with.
One of the main girls that is under her wing is Tahlia (Eilidhh Nairn) who battles privately with her addiction to cocaine. She stands singing on the stage, isolated and alone in clothes that barely cover her. She wears different brightly coloured wigs as if in an attempt to jump from one alter ego to the next. She is tragic character that is so desperately in need of someone to support her. However, Nairn’s acting at times is over the top and unconvincing. After he affections is Ted (Adel Tuzani) who keeps bringing her a potted rose plant but is rejected each time. Tuzani is a straight-laced man. He doesn’t wish to par take in the drug culture around him and pines for Tahlia even when she insults him. He sings for his daughter who he abandoned and seems to be trying to replace this void with Tahlia instead.
But the performance of the evening goes to Jessica Macdonald who plays Mene. She is a showgirl for Aphrodite. She wanders around ordained in white feathers, coughing violently at some unnamed drug related problem. She is an aggressive, pained individual. She is the most relatable person on that stage and her words don’t come across as being constructed, but the cry of someone who needs help and is in denial. Her rendition of ‘I was a good girl till I met you’ is so subtle it gives you goose bumps. It is a song that perfectly encapsulates the struggle of addiction. Macdonald’s voice cracks at the end, emotions hitting the surface and the thin provocatively dress girl on stage looks very small and fragile.
The play is interjected with different stories from each cast member’s past. Dermot (Liam Quinn) gives a very compelling recount of his mother. When he tries to give up alcohol his mother never supports him or believes he can do it. But when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease she finally accepts his achievement.
The Rockson stories is a very commendable project. It helps real people overcome their addiction in a theatrical community setting. It uses music and acting to convey heart-wrenching stories to an ignorant audience. But at times it a jumble of different narratives, characters and intentions. It can feel like you are still watching a rehearsal but the improvised nature can be a compelling and endearing one.
Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street N1 6SH
29th Sept – 17th Oct, previews 29th and 30th
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, matinee 7 October, 2.30pm
£16.50 – £14 | £14 – £12.50 concs | Limited £3 tickets available for each performance* |
Tables of 6 available from £100
hoxtonhall.co.uk | 020 7684 0060
*£3 tickets only available for treatment centres