The Silk Road at Trafalgar Studios review ****

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The Silk Road

Trafalgar Studios 2, 23rd August 2018

The modern day Silk Road was the first major darknet marketplace, closed down in 2013 when the FBI arrested its alleged founder Ross Ulbricht and banged him up for life. I didn’t know that. As far as I was concerned it was the main trading route from West to East through near three millenia until the early 1700’s, (these trade deals can take an awfully long time to set up I fear). I am hoping my confusion poses no surprise to you.

Writer Alex Oates has taken the the modern-day Silk Road as the starting point for his pithy and vivid one-hander, ostensibly a plea for libertarian freedom in a digital world, in reality a sharply observed and very funny coming of age story about Geordie teenager Bruce Blakemore. That it succeeds as well as it does is down to an exhilaratingly dynamic performance by newcomer Josh Barrow. He commits everything, not just in his portrayal of loner Bruce, but in the sweet Nan whose knitting skills he ropes into his ingenious, if illegal, money-making scheme, memorably, the nightclub bouncer and dodgy owner Shaggy who are his, unwitting, accomplices as well as his posh girlfriend who kick starts his habit.

Josh Barrow slips in and out of the distinctive characters in the story, as well as narrating in the first person, at lightning speed. He doesn’t hang about either, constantly on the move in the tiny Trafalgar Studios 2 space. At one point an audience member is briefly press-ganged into the action but, throughout, the constant asides from young Mr Barrow means he engages with all of us. He has bags of charm, natural comic timing and surprising emotional depth. No doubt a lot of hard work went into this performance, along with director Dominic Shaw, but it flows effortlessly. I note that he is not the first actor to take on the role, James Baxter in 2014 in Edinburgh (funded by an anonymous Bitcoin donation it seems, proof that the comedy cryptocurrency can have some value), but I can’t imagine it topped this.

A one hander, coming it at less that an hour, probably didn’t justify the prices that Trafalgar Studios was looking for at the open but, when halved, it became a very attractive proposition. I know everyone involved deserves to be fairly rewarded for their work but I can’t help feeling more realistic pricing at the off would have dragged more punters in to see this excellent play and performance. The SO and I took in a matinee but I can’t help feeling there is a lot of opportunity for a slice of reasonably priced, straight to the point pre-dinner/drinks contemporary theatre in this fair metropolis and TS is perfectly positioned to do it. More like this please.

 

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