Review: Bottleneck

Mr Fish 17 October 2019

A one man show that takes on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster remains ultimately uplifting.

Greg’s introduction to the audience is energy-abundant and boisterous, kicking off this one hour tale, riddled with laughs. Initially this could make an audience member fear that perhaps the deserved gravity of the tragic FA Cup Semi-Final is not to be captured in the coming hour. However, such fears are soon banished. Luke Barnes’s work is a rollercoaster of emotions, masterfully painted by its cast of one. The lack of props and set, let alone performers, makes it all the more impressive that by the end of this tale, you may very well feel tears welling in your eyes, having been laughing just minutes earlier.

Image credit: Cassie Rattray

All audience members know when the lights go down, that there will be tragedy before they come back up again. And yet Greg’s tale takes unforeseen twists and unexpected turns which bring the audience laughter, humanity and a lot of foul language, ultimately culminating in a personal and gritty perspective of 1989 Liverpool. The dialogue is fastpaced and actor Jade Franks industrious in their vigour, causing the story to yo-yo along, sometimes feeling rushed, very occasionally forced, but always engrossing the audience. Greg’s three-day tale flies by, the story littered with characters who come to life on stage and scenes that buzz in the world that the actor constructs around them. The unquestioned wisdom of Tom, the broken spirit of Greg’s dad, and the terror of the stadium all become brutally present in the confines of the Corpus Playroom. At times the comedy may seem rather grotesque, but this appropriately assists in the painting of Greg’s character, and despite the frequent presence of comedy, the darker undertones of other more subtle motifs of the play, in particular the protagonist’s family life, are not smothered.

Image credit: Cassie Rattray

Minimalist yet ingenious use of light and sound help to bring the story to life in the absence of a set. Furthermore, interspersed between Greg’s appearances on stage, the audience is exposed to the memories of a witness to the disaster, reminding them of the impending doom that Greg’s narrative is really heading for, and preemptively building the emotion of the play’s final moments. This firsthand account contributes a depth of reality to the events onstage.  It is not often that a story will have such rambunctious comedy and catastrophic tragedy intertwined, though Bottleneck seemingly achieves both without detriment to either.

Nothing can truly capture the trauma, the horrors and the grief experienced by those who witnessed the Hillsborough disaster. Nevertheless, Bottleneck captures one humanised perspective, doing so with great emotional power which is sure to stir the hearts of all audience members.

4.5 stars