Back Down at the Roundhouse Studio
Before witnessing Steven Camden’s Back Down, you would be forgiven for anticipating a cringe-worthy and laddish tale suffering from delusions of grandeur. Certainly the theatrical website encourages such a preconception, with comparisons to The Inbetweeners touted prominently. Happily, though, such fears prove gloriously unfounded upon witnessing this creative drama.
Set in Camden Roundhouse’s Studio Theatre, this intimate tale of three teen boys that want to climb Snowdon tugs at your heartstrings while tickling your funny bone – quite the contortionist trick. Luke (Lawrence Walker) is heading off to uni with his girlfriend, and his imminent departure is a crossroads for him and his childhood mates Tommy (Sam Cole) and Zia (Waleed Akhtar). This trip is one final hurrah to mark their friendship and bid adieu to childhood together. Loved-up Luke, laddish Tommy and gawky comic Zia may not reach the top of the mountain, but they scale a greater challenge: the step into adulthood.
Camden’s writing style hits head first with its bravely experimental style. Each boy provides his own verbal exposition, setting both the emotive and physical scene in great detail on a Spartan stage to great dramatic and comic effect. What could seem contrived and awkward transforms into a device both inventive and profound through energetic and sensitive performances.
The pop culture references – from the Doctor Pepper T-shirt, to the aspirational Frodo comparison upon the mountain – keep the performance contemporary while the laughs come loud and often, triggered by both absurdity and stylistic ingenuity. Yet, undercutting the laughter is a sensitive underbelly the boys frantically try to hide from themselves and each other. This emotional intelligence is what prevents the road trip becoming yet another shallow stereotypical lads-gone-wild tale. Akhtar’s Zia is particularly powerful. He’s a talented comedian equally capable of enchanting an audience in soul searching moments with eyes alight and a voice heavy with gravity: “I get a warm feeling, and I want to put it in my thermos and carry it everywhere with me.” The production feels a little long for the tale it tells at 90 minutes, and on occasion the energy flags in pauses and final words. But, this is only so noticeable because of the vigour displayed by the artists elsewhere.
Back Down is a comedy with a hidden heart that defies expectations both stylistically and narratively, and to great effect.
Back Down is on at Roundhouse Studio Theatre until 24th May 2015, for further information or to book, visit here.