Every year, the HighTide Festival in Suffolk helps to develop young playwrights and their latest discovery is Essex-born Vickie Donoghue, whose powerful debut play was one of the highlights of this year’s festival in May. It was then restaged at Theatre 503 shortly afterwards.
Mike Noble (Wayne) and Scott Hazell (Jake) in Mudlarks at the Bush Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Set on a Thames mudbank below London, the play foregrounds a crisis affecting three teens from poor families, Wayne, Charlie and Jake. Having committed an unthinking but atrocious act of violence, they are hiding from the police and, in an added complication, from the vengeful brothers of Charlie’s girlfriend.
Donoghue’s well-wrought script explores the psychology of the three boys, contrasting the rather dim Wayne with the much more assertive and aggressive Charlie, while Jake emerges as the one with the deeper moral sense. He is also a bit of a dreamer, and his fantasy of escaping from their deprived background provides a rare theatrical respite from the brutality and hopelessness of their situation.
The metaphor of the stinking mud in which the boys seem destined to sink, and which is well realised physically by Amy Jane Cook’s set design, plays well against the violence of their experiences and the poverty of their life chances. The main problem is that Donoghue has written them into a situation they cannot easily leave so their fates are depressingly predictable.
Will Wrightson’s powerful production has an excellent cast - Mike Noble (Wayne), James Marchant (Charlie) and Scott Hazell (Jake) - with uniformly good performances. By creating their callous viciousness, limited life chances and dreams of a better tomorrow, Donoghue proves that she is a talent to watch.