REVIEW: be reet by Joshua Miles, Higher Walton Community Centre, Higher Walton, Lancs. April 5/6, 2019
This was a brave and poignant play. It made you laugh, but also made you want to cry, as it revisited what it was like to grow up gay in a Lancashire village on the outskirts of Preston earlier this century.
Actor Joshua Miles, 29, was on the other side of the stage for this production, writing it, fund-raising for it via crowd funding and savings and also directing it.
The play lets you to know he's reet in the end, settled with his sexuality and grateful for the opportunities and care his school provided.
But it disquietingly catches the awfulness of adolescence, the uncertainties, the confidences and conflicts, the pain of not being fully accepted and still wanting to be accepted.
Ultimately this play champions difference, the right to be different and the need to allow a person to just be. In the compelling words of the plea, sung twice in this production: "Show me a little kindness".
The play also captured the world and curiosity of those who do not understand such differences.
The very strong cast gave life and urgency to this multilayered drama, which premiered in Joshua's home village, drawing the audience back to 2003.
The actors took on the roles of 18 characters, with entertaining ease, and the production moved swiftly, proving mostly seamless.
The lead, played wonderfully by Rhys Isaac-Jones, perfectly captured a teenager's diffidence and uncertainty navigating friendships and learning friends can bite back unexpectedly at any time.
Fellow actors gave excellent cameo performances which will stay in the memory - Matt Sutton as a schoolboy with his own problems at home, Thomas Pickles as an irrepressible dad and short fused teacher embarking on a sex education lesson with emergency props, Sally Messham commanded numerous roles, convincing us compellingly she was the lead's supportive mum, a struggling single mum working as a topless barmaid and a schoolgirl. Petra Markham's plain speaking grandma and caring teacher, helped ground the uncertain teenager and his parents through the teenager's distress.
The play's setting in the round, with props accessed by opening mini trapdoors on stage, worked well. Sound effects were used economically and excellently - with the exception of a vacuuming scene which went on so long it caused a distraction and an audio recording of a TV soap which was a little too long and definitely hard to hear.
Sitting in the round also provided an opportunity to observe audience reaction - and the audience was in turns chastened, saddened and entertained, often to the point of laughing out loud.
Particularly poignant for local audience members was the scene where the main character sits on the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Bench, struggling with his sexuality. That it made you smile at the same time is a tribute to Joshua's writing and directing skills.
The final scene, where the teenager, now adult, read a letter reassuring the audience everything had turned out OK and he was reet now, did not sit so easily, begging the question how did he get from there to here? Material for a second play, perhaps.
be reet was performed for older Lostock Hall Academy school pupils last week and Joshua (full name Joshua Miles Hanlon) led acting workshops in his former high school .
While this play is in part an anthem for lost opportunities for acceptance, its message is also transferable for every young person who has felt too fat, too thin, too unpopular or too different. Life gives back and while school is endured by some rather than enjoyed, first it does not have to be that way....and, consolingly, when you grow up you have new friends and new perspectives. It's a rather good lesson for all youngsters.