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Silk Road review at Vaults, London – ‘an exhilarating one-man show’

Josh Barrow in Silk Road at Vaults, London Josh Barrow in Silk Road at Vaults, London
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Silk Road, for the uninitiated, was a darknet narcotics marketplace on which you could order everything from crack cocaine to painkillers and have it delivered to your own door by an unsuspecting postman. An illicit eBay of class A drugs and contraband goods.

It’s this murky online world that Josh Barrow’s teenage protagonist Bruce gets sucked into in Alex Oates’ bitcoin-funded one-man play, revived at the Vaults after run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014.
Set in the bars and bedrooms of Newcastle, Silk Road follows Bruce as he builds a cocaine empire from his laptop, importing powder then smuggling it across the UK in tea cosies knitted by his gran.

It’s an exhilarating, enjoyable ride, a Geordie Goodfellas that jumps between explanatory audience interaction – do you know, for example, the best way to hollow out a book to hide something inside? Or how to order smack online? – and a wild, whirlwind narrative that shifts gears with electric ease.

Barrow supplies a loud, likeable performance, all crippling class consciousness and swaggering bravado. Ray Liotta in trackies and a t-shirt and a thick North-East accent. Dominic Shaw’s production is standard one-man show fare – slick, sharp transitions take us from nightclubs to internet forums and back again at speed.

It probably doesn’t plumb the game-changing social significance of the dark web as deeply as it could, sticking instead to a surface-level fascination with what you can achieve on it – drugs! In the post! – but Silk Road is a fine piece of slick, smart storytelling nonetheless.

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Alex Oates' exhilarating, enjoyable one-man show about drugs on the dark web