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High Ridin’ review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘unassuming but underwritten one-act drama’

Chicho Tche and Tom Michael Blyth. Photo: Alex Brenner Chicho Tche and Tom Michael Blyth. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Past mistakes and a fresh start form the backbone of James Hogan’s new one-act drama High Ridin’.

In several aspects it’s quite an old-fashioned play, pitching old-world values against how we live our lives in the modern world. It also bears a similarity to Francis Lee’s acclaimed 2017 movie God’s Own Country, observing the life of a gay man who has found only isolation and hostility in rural England.

Here however, the protagonist Stan is returning home after a stretch in prison. He has inherited his recently dead father’s dilapidated guest house on the Lancashire moors and finds his only surviving aunt stripping the home of the family heirlooms.

Bitterness and resentment bubble to the surface but Stan is not alone. He has picked up stoned teenager Ronnie in the toilets of a motorway service cafe and diverted to the guesthouse to give him time to sober up.

For such a rose-tinted ending, the play is very slight, packing too much into too small a space. The characters are so disparate that it takes a while for the narrative to pull in to focus. But when it does, there are some beautifully tender moments, witty dialogue and occasional touches of whimsy.

It’s a far cry from director Peter Darney’s brutal 5 Guys Chillin’, which he also helmed at the King’s Head, but here he handles the material with sensitivity and draws fine performances from a wistful Tom Michael Blyth as Stan and Chicho Tche as Ronnie, the latter in his professional debut. Linda Beckett adds venom to the mix as the conflicted Aunt Ivy, making this as much a generational story as a gay one.

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Verdict
Gentle, unassuming but ultimately underwritten new play
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