4 stars ****
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)
AFTER THE turn of the millennium, there was a long silence from Jim Cartwright, poet-playwright of the Lancashire working class, and the author of iconic texts of the 80’s and early 90’s including Road, Two, and The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice. Now, though, he’s back; 57 years old, and as angrily poetic as ever, in this fierce and beautiful new 50-minute monologue, given a brilliant and compelling performance at Assembly’s George Square Studios by Cartwright’s own son, the actor James Cartwright.
“Meet Shane, one of the low-paid generation who lives for the weekend while still living at home,” says the blurb on the playtext; and the play takes us on a booze-and-blood-splattered roller-coaster ride through Shane’s small-town Friday night, as he pub-and-club-crawls with his mates, tries to strike exactly the right balance betwen alcohol and various drugs, flashes his gorgeous, ripped body at gaggles of girls in stilettoes, and tries to fight back the profound, consuming sadness of a man nearing 30 who has lost the woman he loves, largely – it seems – because of his inability to imagine much of a future.
Some of this subject-matter is more than familiar, of course; and Cartwright’s style, now adopted by many, carries echoes of contemporary writers like Mark O’Rowe and Kate Tempest, marrying contemporary urban squalor with a sense of the epic and mythical.
Cartwright is a writer of no mean rate, though, deft and brilliant in locating this particular night out in the sold-off, sold-out economic and spiritual landscape of 21st century Britain. And in moments of clear sight – at the height of the party, or in the quietness after it – Cartwright’s language sparkles with a rare, intense sense of the beauty and absurdity of things; offering a poetry that is not only powerful in itself, but that also embodies the lost potential of Shane, who briefly sees the world around him so clearly, and describes it so beautifully, before he returns to stacking shelves.