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Broken review at Old Red Lion, London – ‘a sweary, seamy verse play’

Matthew Lyon and Edie Newman in Broken at the Old Red Lion, London
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Matthew Lyon’s verse play Broken wears its influences on its sleeve. It embraces that swaggering, strutting Berkovian vibe, spitting out its story of a relationship gone wrong in a mangled hybrid of Shakespeare, swear words and estuary slang. The performers wrestle for the narrative like rugby players rucking.

Like Berkoff, there’s intimate attention to sweaty, seamy detail and a pin-point geographic specificity. Like Berkoff, there’s a stream of compound adjectives (“Hubba-bubba-encrusted train” is a particular highlight) and ceaseless, sometimes wincingly contrived rhyming. Unpolished Theatre do the same thing (and do it better).

It’s littered with garbled flashes of Shakespeare, too. Boy and Girl – our protagonists, Lyon himself and Edie Newman – consummate their new passion with pomp, with triumph and with revelling. Full of spiders is Boy’s mind when he frets about sexual inadequacy. No merry wander of the night is he after Girl has chucked him.

It is, as theatre traditions go, almost as unfashionable as it gets, but there’s absolutely no denying it is a cracking piece of writing, formally at least. Lyon and Newman make for an odd couple, but they both rattle through the rhythms with suitably grotesque gusto.

And yet, Kennedy Bloomer’s production cannot sustain itself on Berkoff banter alone. Underneath the fierce, festering poetry, Broken doesn’t have all that much to say for itself. It’s simply an everyday story of boy meets girl, boy slides into alcoholism and abuse, girl leaves boy. There’s nowt revelatory here. Plenty of style, but precious little content.

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Sweaty, seamy verse play littered with Shakespeare that doesn’t quite have the substance to match its style