Review by Daz Gale
The Edinburgh Fringe is just around the corner, and now is the time where shows make a stop in London before heading up there. We have tried to cover some of these on the website this year as we unfortunately won’t make it to the Festival this year (2024 DEFINITELY) and one title that definitely piqued my interest was Bacon – though maybe that was just because I was hungry at the time. But would this show be a sizzling delight or would it not be meaty enough for me?
Developed as part of Soho Theatre’s Writers Lab and first performed at London’s Finborough Theatre last year, Bacon now turns up at Riverside Studios for a serving as part of their Bitesize Festival. It tells the story of Mark and Darren on the first day back at school for Year 10. Mark is the new kid and doesn’t know anyone while Darren spends all his time on his own. The two of them form an unlikely friendship which turns into a tumultuous relationship.
Written by Sophie Swithinbank, Bacon veers back and forth between two timelines. Beginning in the present day where adult Mark is shocked to find Darren walk into his place of work. Initially we don’t know why Darrens presence has caused such an extreme reaction, but this becomes clearer as the play progresses and we travel back to Year 10 as the pair get to know each other better. This timeline jumping always feels natural and ties in smoothly, creating a narrative that benefits from a non-linear structure. At times, Mark and Darren narrate their own stories separate to each other – and this narration is expertly woven with clever use of wordplay seeing one start a sentence using the same word as the other finished on. Crucially, this isn’t used as a gimmick, never feeling cringeworthy and giving a sense of poetry to some of the lines.
Matthew Iliffe’s direction complements Sophie’s writing, illuminating the words and amplifying tension in the story. This is particularly effective on some of the shows more intense moments. A small, fairly bare bones set (designed by Natalie Johnson) doesn’t need any bells and whistles as it is the storytelling and performance that drive Bacon forward, making it so captivating to watch.
For 75 minutes, the stage consists of just two actors – ever present until the closing minute in demanding roles that require versatility in terms of emotional portrayals. Luckily, the two actors here have no shortage of range, leaving everything on the stage in two separate performances that continually wow. Mark drives the narrative of the story, with Darrens story at times feeling secondary – though this does get more equal in weight at one point. Corey Montague-Sholay perfectly drives the story as Mark in a performance that requires him to keep his cool for the most part, with emotions slipping through in varying degrees. Corey essentially plays two people as we visit Mark in his younger days and present, flawlessly demonstrating a change between the two characters while fundamentally remaining the same person.
William Robinson’s performance as Darren was truly extraordinary to watch. Starting as the cocky kid we all seemed to know at school, there is a complicated individual hiding underneath all that bravado and William does an exceptional job of exploring all of these layers. In a performance that demands him to snap from one extreme to another, William is always fascinating to watch. Bursting with emotion, there is a real sense of authenticity behind his performance. At times urgent and fairly uncomfortable at others, he delivers a truly remarkable portrayal of a character that can’t be the easiest to play.
Bacon isn’t always the easiest of plays to watch. The themes in the show can be quite disturbing to watch and I would strongly recommend anybody watching this checks out the trigger warnings beforehand. However, the difficult subjects approached in this show are dealt with in such a brutally real way, it makes for compulsive viewing. Raw and unflinching, I was gripped from start to finish thanks to truly sensational writing and two phenomenal performances. Yes, it may make you feel uncomfortable but theatre at its best can make you feel and I challenge anybody not to feel something while watching this – perhaps even conflicting emotions. Bacon’s ability to penetrate through its story makes this a show with plenty to offer – in terms of successful execution, this show really is bringing home the bacon.
Bacon plays at Riverside Studios until 29th July. Tickets from https://riversidestudios.co.uk/
It then plays at Edinburgh Fringe at Summerhall from 2nd – 27th August. Tickets from https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bacon
Photos by Ali Wright