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Back2Back Productions presents


Ordinary Lads


by Paul Ferguson


Directed by Jake Hendriks


Etcetera Theatre


26 Jan - 14 Feb 2010







A review by James Richards for EXTRA! EXTRA!

You could sketch the plot of Paul Ferguson‘s new play Ordinary Lads on the back of a rizla packet. Sparky has lost his job, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s car and his driving licence. Can his three beer-swigging, weed-smoking mates come up with a plan to rescue him from the day from hell?

Much of the material for Ferguson’s character-based comedy seems to be drawn directly from personal experience. The lads’ patter, their idiosyncrasies and  the relations between them share a resounding ring of truth. To match, Back2Back Productions has transformed the Etcetera theatre stage into an entirely convincing post-student living room, complete with granny-style light fittings, Che Guevara poster and a traffic cone. Olivia Altaras’ set showed admirable attention to detail which extended to the contents of a ‘weed tray’ (every serious smoker has one) overflowing with rolling papers and fragments of cigarettes.

As in most pads, the battered sofa plays host to the action. Director Jake Hendriks takes every opportunity to let each character’s state of mind overflow into their actions and reactions; the four mates, all early twenties, leap, bounce and at every minute threaten to burst forth from the stage’s narrow confines as their dysfunctional relationship unravels. Hendriks thereby achieves a physical match to Ferguson‘s quick-fire style, a wise choice when the writer’s strong suit is the banter that he perceives goes on between ‘ordinary lads’. You can feel the affection behind the writing and certain spats are a joy to behold; when Simon Naylor’s Essex boy Dibbs clashes in a bullshitting duel with the sardonic Fergie, played by Nik Drake, the air hisses with pool table wit. Marc Pickering’s Bones keeps score with life-or-death earnestness, his face a mask of anxious anticipation.

Bones is the character in whom the writing, directing and acting knit most effectively. Pickering finds pathos in the role as well as well as plenty of comedy; his body seems pre-programmed with a hilarious door-answering dance that he snaps into impulsively as soon as there’s a knock. But by genuinely caring about his mates the idealistic stoner who struggles with the most basic tasks becomes the glue that binds the group together. 

There was perhaps less scope in the character Fergie who seems a little lost between the aggressive Dibbs and the sensitive Bones. Neither fire nor water, Drake must tread that difficult path of script-ordained mediocrity. He takes good advantage of a genuinely tense encounter near the end, when suddenly, I felt like I was seeing something that should have been kept private; in other words, I forgot I was in a theatre.

David Cullinane as Sparky raves and rails as his life disintegrates. Starting at ten on the pissed-off scale, he doesn’t have a lot of space to develop into. However, when he leaves the stage his bloodied face, creased with guilt, brows knit and eyes wide, painfully portrays a shredded conscience to match his shredded clothes. Elsewhere, Nico Lennon deserves credit for making the most of three very different roles, of which the finest by far was Bones’ dealer Jukebox, whose pro-weed proselytation was at least as lyrical as Street’s Mike Skinner, and funnier.

However, it seems that where Ferguson’s direct experience falls short, the script suffers and sometimes resorts to cliché, as in the case of the character Delivery Man. But Ferguson should still be given serious credit for capturing the tall stories, pot-smoker mythology and crackling banter that many 18-30 year olds will easily relate to. This is quality, accessible fringe that you could invite the lads down the pub to without fear of later ostracization.

Some readers will be surprised to know that Ferguson was once better known as ‘Bubble’ from TV show Big Brother and Ordinary Lads constitutes his eighth play since his departure from that famous house. This warm and funny show whetted my appetite for more from this talented playwright; the bubble is far from bursting.

Etcetera Theatre
265 Camden High Street
London NW1 7BU

Box Office: 020 7482 4857





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