16 February 2013

Port at the National Theatre

I am not sure if it is the National Theatre's fault or mine that I do not go more often but somehow I associate it with safe and establishment and I prefer edgy and fringe.

I found myself back there through an unusual route. I was listening to the always excellent Robert Elms podcast and he interviewed Simon Stephens who wrote Port and who originated from Stockport where the play gets its name. What he said about the play was enough to convince me that I should go and see it, so I did.

Port tells the story of a girl, Racheal, growing up in difficult circumstances in a Stockport estate. We follow her, and her family, from the age of 11 to 24 through eight scenes.

The settings change from, for example, a hospital to a bus stop, smoothly with Racheal staying on the stage as it transforms smoothly around her. It is all very impressive and, more importantly, allows the story to move along without a break. This works very well even though, or perhaps because of, these smooth transitions in our real-time are leaps of several years for those on stage.

I do not want to give too much of the story away but it gives you some of the flavour of the play to know that a parent leaves, her younger brother gets caught up in petty criminality, a good friend dies, a marriage fails and another one is tested, and she moves away from Stockport for a while.

Through all the change the one constant is Racheal's resilient attitude that mixes street smarts with brash confidence. There are vulnerabilities in there too, she cares for her family and wants to be loved by somebody.

Kate O'Flynn plays Racheal and is utterly convincing as she ages 13 years before our eyes and moves through a heady mix of emotions. It's a wonderful performance and worth the entry fee alone.

The story is gritty, as it should be if it is meant to be taken as real life. It's something like Eastenders but set up north, with lots of swearing (it is meant to be taken as real life) and better acting. The grittiness persists throughout but so does Racheal's positive attitude and, despite everything, it is an uplifting story and a great pleasure to watch.

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