Theatre Review: Bassett

A group of badly-behaved students are locked in a classroom while racial tensions boil outside. What could go wrong? heads to The Drama Barn to find out

Gabe Dentoni as Amid and Sam McNeil as Russell in Bassett. Photograph: Gareth Young.

The nation’s youth have the most to lose from almost any political debate. However, their voice is not the loudest. Given that it is the voice of those who will be most affected by the actions of politicians, it is disappointing that the voice of young people is so rarely heard in political debate. Bassett tunes us in to the sound of a furious youth whose opinions have not yet matured but are nevertheless fully formed. With this new production from York’s DramaSoc, the sensitive (if in some cases slightly outdated) material could have been handled poorly. Thankfully that is not the case, as director Jessy Roberts and her assistant Neil Collingham skillfully craft this very strong production.

As we are ushered into the theatre we are instantly met with chaos. A gang of unruly children are running riot over a classroom despite the best efforts of their substitute teacher. Before they know it, they are locked inside on a day when the repatriation of a fallen British soldier is happening outside. A fallen British soldier that many of the class claim to have known. Things go from bad to worse, but it is in these moments before the lights have dimmed that the tone is set so well. The cast of fourteen cavort around the classroom effortlessly, without obvious choreography or practiced movement. It feels chaotic, messy and exactly like a real high school classroom. As members of the audience cheerfully discussed which of the characters on stage they were most like in high school, they were lulled into a false sense of security that is definitively destroyed by the end of the play. Bassett is, by its conclusion, not an easy watch, but these opening moments reassure the audience that they are in capable hands.

The movement direction of the show is absolutely masterful, with the eye being drawn constantly from corner to corner of the stage as the pace is never allowed to drop.

This flawless understanding of the nature of a British high school classroom continues throughout. The movement direction of the show is absolutely masterful, with the eye being drawn constantly from corner to corner of the stage as the pace is never allowed to drop. Characters glide unnoticed from one part of the room to another, chatting indistinctly and interacting with their classmates while the play continues around them. The chaos is never better than in the opening section of the play when the rapid-fire delivery of lines from all corners allows the ensemble to shine. Far more care has been put into this production than simply standing the lead actors at the front and having them take all the focus and Roberts is to be applauded for this work.

Additional credit must be given to the staging of some of the play’s more complex scenes. The technical team are given very little to work with in terms of creative flair but in scenes such as the war re-enactment or the play’s closing moments they work brilliantly in tandem with the director to create more visually distinctive moments and break up the pacing of the show.

The ensemble casting of this show makes it perfect for a student production and the cast chosen do not disappoint. Though every actor seizes their chance to shine some deserve more significant praise. Mark Ellis’ performance as Leo, the tortured lead character of the show, is phenomenal. Given the full gamut of emotional range to play with he turns on a dime with ease, oscillating wildly between fury and irreverence.

Mark Ellis as Leo and Lucy Norton as Joanne. Photograph: Gareth Young.

Lydia Slack plays Zoe, one of the less featured characters in the play, with fantastic wit and charm throughout, never drawing unnecessary attention but always shining when given the spotlight. Similarly, Patrick Walker as Dean is hugely entertaining, offering moments of excellently-delivered humour throughout that leave the audience laughing even amidst the darker moments of the show. Rory Hutchison’s portrayal of bullying victim Spencer starts off a little too broad with his opening speech, but by the end of the play his performance is far subtler and measured and his monologue that closes the play is one of the best of the whole hour.

Patrick Walker as Dean is hugely entertaining, offering moments of excellently-delivered humour throughout.

A couple of moments in the production unfortunately rang hollow and were the only moments that exposed the performance as one done by students rather than a professional theatre company. The most noticeable came in a pivotal set piece requiring the spray painting of a Union Jack. One can only assume that technical specifications and red tape prevented them from using real spray paint, but nevertheless a better alternative should have been found as characters gazing in awe and fear at an empty wall elicited unintended spurts of laughter from the audience in one of the play’s most dramatic scenes.

But these points are not to be focused on as Bassett is unmistakably a hugely successful production. There are no weak performances in the 14-strong cast and the direction from Jessy Roberts and assistant director Neil Collingham is fantastically detailed and enjoyable to watch. With no dips in pacing throughout the hour and both the humour and the tension utilised to the utmost degree, Bassett is not a show to be missed and marks a terrific debut show for a whole host of new performers with York’s resident drama society.


Incredibly detailed direction and a phenomenal lead performance anchor this powerful production that is, despite the occasional tonal misstep, thoroughly entertaining viewing.

8/10

Bassett is running in The Drama Barn until Sunday. Tickets available online at yorkdramasoc.com

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